With its catalogue of headstands and one-legged contortions, it might be thought yoga was best left only to those in peak physical condition.
New research from the US, however, suggests the group of people who could most benefit from adopting the lotus position while locating their spiritual core are in fact those immobilised by pain.
Analysis of more than 1,000 men and women with long-term lower back pain found that patients who practised the ancient Indian discipline were most likely to reduce pain levels and improve their mobility.
The findings add further weight to calls for GPs to prescribe yoga for people with long-term discomfort as a matter of course.
Back pain is the cause of more disability than any other condition and affects nearly one in 10 people, becoming more common with age.
The vast majority of lower back pain cases have an unknown cause, making them hard to treat, and patients commonly resort to long-term use of strong painkillers.
While National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines instruct doctors to consider recommending various aerobic and biomechanical exercises, there is currently no mention of yoga.
However, the new analysis of 12 academic studies from the UK, US and India, suggests that the specific practice of yoga, as distinct from traditional back exercises, could yield the best results.
The scientists behind the new research are now calling for fresh longer-term trials to understand the full benefits for patients with persistent back pain, as the existing data only relates to the first 12 months.
Lead author Susan Wieland, from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said: “Our findings suggest that yoga exercise may lead to reducing the symptoms of lower back pain by a small amount, but the results have come from studies with a short follow-up.
“At the moment we only have low to moderate quality evidence for the effects of yoga before six months as a type of exercise for helping people with chronic back pain.”
The patients involved in the studies analysed by Dr Wieland had all been enrolled on yoga causes specifically designed for their conditions provided by qualified teachers.
The British yoga community is currently riven with uncharacteristic disharmony amid a debate over whether or not to regulate yoga teachers following a series of injuries after students were reportedly encouraged to adopt dangerous positions.
Yoga teachers who practise in gymns and leisure centres currently have to join the Register of Exercise Professionals, however anyone can set themselves up as a private instructor.
“The yoga exercises practiced in the studies were developed for lower back pain and people should also remember that in each of the studies we reviewed, the yoga classes were led by experienced practitioners,” said Dr Wieland.
She also warned that one in 20 participants in the 12 studies had reported their back pain getting worse after starting a course of yoga.
Derived from a Sanskrit word, yoga aims to “coordinate the breath, mind and body to encourage balance, both internally and externally,” according to the British Wheel of Yoga.
But despite its widely acknowledged benefits, the practice is not considered strenuous enough to count towards the Government-recommended minimum weekly exercise target of 150 minutes’ activity, according to the NHS.
But the activity is recommended to elderly people to help prevent falls.
By Henry Bodkin “The Telegraph”