Let me start this blog article with a disclaimer. I love yoga, but I’m equally fond of other forms of exercise. I regularly ride an exercise bike, and my puppy-girl walks me about 20 miles every week. My yoga practice has always been more about by calming my brain than firming my bottom, so to speak. It would never even occur to me to choose between the two. But for those of you who think I’m crazy or whose schedules force you to choose, recent research shows that yoga may have increased benefits when compared to more Western forms of exercise.
Brittanie DeChino, an instructor at The George Washington University’s School of Public Health, recently presented her research at the 58th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine and 2nd World Congress on Exercise is Medicine®. Her research is noteworthy because of its focus. Although many studies have examined the short-term physical and psychological benefits of yoga, hers is one of the first to examine how long-term yoga practitioners compare to long-term exercisers.
Brittanie and her team surveyed 163 participants from yoga and fitness centers across the Washington, D.C. area. Participates ranged in age from 18 to 65, and were approximately 80% female. According to Ms. DeChino, her team found the following:
“We surveyed the participants on psychological well-being, as measured by anxiety, depression, coping, mindfulness, perceived stress and general health symptoms. Interestingly, the two groups – yoga practitioners and habitual exercisers – were similar with regard to self-reported symptoms of anxiety and depression.
However, the yoga practitioners reported lower prevalence of joint pain and headaches than those who engaged in cardiovascular exercise and weight training. They also had higher scores for mindfulness and coping skills, and lower scores for perceived stress, compared with the exercise group.”
The joint pain reductions are intriguing. Many people practice yoga specifically because yoga is a low impact exercise, which means that people with pre-existing joint pain are likely to be over-represented in the yoga group. In spite of that, yoga practitioners reported less pain than participants in other forms of exercise. Even more encouraging, this study supports the Aetna study that showed practicing Viniyoga reduces work-related stress.
I’m also not surprised by the comparative levels of anxiety and depression. Yoga can help significantly with these two conditions, but the most effective yoga practices for anxiety and depression incorporate pranayama (breath work) and meditation, combined with physical postures. Typical American yoga classes focus almost exclusively on the poses. Check out my prior blog articles and for breath practices that may help with anxiety and depression.
I’d love to continue highlighting yoga research in this blog. If you hear about other yoga studies, let me know!