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While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy.

Related Terms

  • Asana, ashtanga yoga, Ayurvedic medicine, bandhas, bhakti yoga, Bhastika, Bhastrika, Bhavan yoga, Bikram yoga, chanting, cleansing techniques, cyclic meditation, dharana (concentration), dhyana, dru yoga, gentle yoga, guided imagery, hatha yoga, headstands, hot yoga, Iyengar yoga, integral yoga, jalandara bandha, jivamukti yoga, kapalabhati, kapalabhati breathing, karma yoga, kirtan, Kripalu yoga, kriya, kumbhaka, Kundalini yoga, Lamaze® breathing, mantra, meditation, mula bandha, nadi-shodhana pranayama, nadi suddhi, neti, niyama (healthy habit), nostril breathing, om, padmasana, patanjala yoga, patanjali, poses, postures, power yoga, pranayama, prathyahara (sense withdrawal), proprioceptive physical activity, raja yoga, relaxation, restorative yoga, Qi gong, Sahaja yoga, samadhi, savasana, shavasana, shoulder stand, Siddha medicine, Siddha Yugimuni, Siddhi, Silver Yoga Programme, sirsasana (headstand) yoga posture, Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY), sukhasana, sun salutation, surya anuloma viloma, suryanamaskar, sva-tantra, tai chi, The Yoga Sutras, therapeutic yoga, TM, Transcendental Meditation®, tum-mo (heat) yoga, uddiyana bandha, ujjayi, ujjayi and bhastrika combination, unloaded movement facilitation exercise, vegetarian diet, visualization, yama (moral behavior), yoga-mimansa, yoga nidra, Yoga of Awareness Program, yoga therapy, yogi, yogic breathing.
  • Not included in this review: Ayurveda, NIA, Siddha, Transcendental Meditation®.


  • Yoga is an ancient system of relaxation, exercise, and healing with origins in Indian philosophy. Early descriptions of yoga are written in Sanskrit, the classical literary language of India. The first known work is "The Yoga Sutras," written more than 2,000 years ago, although yoga may have been practiced up to 5,000 years ago. The initial concepts have been adapted over time through translation and scholarly interpretation, but the fundamental principles describing the practice of yoga in the quest of the soul remain largely intact.
  • Yoga has been described as "the union of mind, body, and spirit," which addresses physical, mental, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual dimensions towards an overall harmonious state of being. The philosophy of yoga is sometimes pictured as a tree with eight branches. These eight limbs are: pranayama (breathing exercises), asana (physical postures), yama (moral behavior), niyama (healthy habit), dharana (concentration), prathyahara (sense withdrawal), dhyana (contemplation), and samadhi (higher consciousness). There are several schools of yoga practice, such as hatha yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, and raja yoga. These schools vary in the proportions of the exercises of the eight limbs. However, they are all similar in working towards the goal of self-realization and control of mental, physiological, and psychological parameters through yogic experiences. In the United States and Europe, hatha yoga is commonly practiced, including pranayama and asanas.
  • Yoga is often practiced by healthy individuals with the aim to achieve relaxation, fitness, and a healthy lifestyle. Yoga has also been recommended and used for a variety of medical conditions. Yoga techniques can be learned in classes or through videotape instruction. Classes last from 30 to 90 minutes and are offered at various skill levels. There is no widely accepted credentialing for yoga instructors.


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Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.

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Author Information

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Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to Selected references are listed below.

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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.