New research shows that people who participate in yoga may also be more likely to adopt healthy lifestyle habits such as mindful eating and being physically active in ways other than yoga.
Under the leadership of IDEA member Stephanie Bryan, PhD, assistant professor at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, New Jersey, researchers conducted a survey across several yoga studies and fitness facilities in that state. The survey gathered information about health behaviors, length of yoga practice and mindfulness levels among yoga practitioners. Mindfulness was measured with a questionnaire on mindful eating. Eighty-seven adults chose to participate.
“The most important finding is that mindfulness, or becoming more self-aware, breeds self-regulation abilities,” Bryan told IDEA Fitness Journal. Data analysis suggested a positive relationship between length of yoga practice and an ability to keep exercising, to enjoy a more positive mood and to eat healthfully. Eighty-seven percent of participants felt that yoga improved their exercise adherence, and 91% believed yoga promoted adoption of healthy habits. Body mass index and mindful eating were inversely related: the more mindful a respondent, the lower the individual’s BMI.
Bryan noted that qualitative data from the study illustrates these points. One participant reported, “Yoga has given me the ability and awareness to really connect with my body, not just exercise . . . it has enhanced my relationship with myself.” Another commented, “It helps me focus more internally, keeping me more motivated and focused on myself and my health.”
As a result of this study and additional observations from her 32-year instructional career, which has included owning and operating a yoga and fitness studio, Bryan is encouraging yoga instructors to cultivate true mindfulness in all aspects of their class development and execution. “One of the most egregious mistakes we make as yoga instructors is to create a competitive, performance-oriented environment with a yoga class,” said Bryan. “We have an opportunity to create a ‘safe zone,’ emphasizing self-awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance while graciously promoting the improvement of many of the health-related aspects of fitness, like muscular strength, endurance and flexibility.”
Study authors noted several limitations to the study. The self-selected participants were primarily highly educated white women with a mean age of 47 years. Future research should include a more diverse population across broader age groups. In addition, the findings were associational, and no cause- and-effect relationships can be inferred.
The research appeared in the Journal of Nutritional Therapeutics (2013; 2, 173–81).