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Participants in a community-based mind-body training program report moderate improvements in quality of life after 3 months

Popular interest in yoga and other mind-body practices is strong, but few data exist on the health effects of these practices. A recent study of a community-based mind-body training program found that participants had significantly improved quality of life after 3 months of training. The program, dahn-hak, originated in South Korea, and shares elements of hatha yoga (stretching, postures) and qigong (energy cultivation).

In the study, which was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (T32 HS00066), researchers from the Weill Medical College of Cornell University assessed the quality of life of 171 individuals at the start of 10 dahn-hak classes at one of eight community centers and again 3 months later. They examined participants' responses to the Medical Outcomes Study SF-36 general health questionnaire.

The goal of dahn-hak is to learn how to harness the body's energy to control one's mind and body. Training in dahn-hak typically consists of a 1-hour class two or three times per week. The class begins with stretching exercises, which increase flexibility in the large muscle groups and shoulders, neck, hips, back, and knees. In the second phase, postures are held for "energy accumulation" followed by a 5- to 10-minute period of meditation intended to facilitate "energy awareness." The class concludes with a repetition of the large muscle group stretches.

Before starting the classes, the participants reported lower scores than U.S. norms for seven of eight domains of the SF-36: mental health, emotional role, social function, vitality, general health, body pain, and physical role. After 3 months of training, patient scores improved in all domains, including an increase of 15.5 in the score for mental health domain. On average, class participants reported fewer depressive symptoms, less anxiety, and greater self-efficacy than they reported prior to taking the classes. Future studies are needed to determine if the observed benefits are transient or enduring.

Details are in "Prospective study of new participants in a community-based mind-body training program," by Sung W. Lee, M.D., M.Sc., Carol A. Mancuso, M.D., and Mary E. Charlson, M.D., in the July 2004 Journal of General Internal Medicine 19, pp. 760-765.

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