Practitioners consider yoga to be investigative science that has incorporated thousands of years of research. Although yoga teachers and students may find that intellectual foundation to be enough, efforts aimed at incorporating insights from yoga into the framework of modern medicine seek to discover verifiable mechanisms for the effects.
Although yoga has been studied from a scientific perspective in India for decades, older Indian studies have been justly criticized for substandard methodology. In the past decade, methods have improved, with many researchers now incorporating the stringent techniques of modern science, including use of control groups, randomization of subjects, and quantification of effects.
Randomized, controlled trials are of particular interest as they produce the highest quality results. In this approach, subjects are randomly assigned to a yoga intervention group or to another “control” group who receive standard care for the condition (or less frequently, due to ethical restrictions, no intervention).
Case studies are typically observational, with researchers scoring subjects over time on a standardized inventory of parameters, as is done for much pharmaceutical research.
The more subjects in a study, the stronger the conclusions that can be drawn, with statistical methods validated by decades of pharmaceutical research.
One key finding from such research is that “meta-analysis” (pooling data from different studies) is fraught with potentially misleading correlations. Thus, to properly implement a research strategy on yoga, it is important to use a standardized protocol for the yoga arm of the trial. In this regard, Iyengar Yoga holds particular promise because of its systematic approach. As results accumulate that validate yoga techniques, it is reasonable to expect increased willingness to collaborate, to the benefit of both medicine and yoga.