This one is right up many Ashtangis’ alley.
A home practice is a better indicator of good health than length of yoga practice or frequency of going to yoga classes. The study can be found right here. It was done in cooperation with the Iyengar Yoga National Association U.S.
Those indicators included “mindfulness, subjective well-being, BMI, fruit and vegetable consumption, vegetarian status, sleep, and fatigue.” And then there’s this: “Each component of yoga practice (different categories of physical poses, breath work, meditation, philosophy study) predicted at least 1 health outcome.”
In other words, what we might call the full plate of yoga — or more of our familiar limbs — is better for you than just asana or something else, alone.
Here’s a bit more from the study, about the definition of “yoga practice”:
Questions regarding yoga practice were divided into questions about general yoga practice (years of practice and frequency of home practice and yoga classes) and specific components of yoga practice (physical poses, breath work, meditation, and philosophy study). Physical poses were divided into four categories: standing poses; vigorous poses such as sun salutations, backbends, and arm balances; inversions such as head and shoulder stands; gentle and/or restorative poses. Frequency of physical poses was defined as days per month of practice at home and in class, with the exception of gentle poses, which was defined as ≤30 or >30 minutes per week. Frequency of breath work and meditation were defined as ≤ or > once per week. The study of yogic philosophical texts, primarily the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is considered one of the ethical requirements of yoga study . The amount of time spent on the study of yoga philosophy (yoga sutras) was defined as the frequency with which one attends classes or lectures (including recordings or webcasts) or reads classical yoga texts such as the Yoga Sutras, Bagavad Gita, or the Upanishads.
The study bore out something else I’ve been teaching for years: when you combine the various tools in the yoga toolbox including asana, breathing practices, meditation and even study of yoga philosophy you tend to get even better results. As the authors put it, “an intense practice involving all aspects of yoga practice may be more beneficial to health than a less intense practice that includes only one or two aspects of yoga practice, such as just practicing the physical poses or breath work.”
There also appeared to be additional benefits for combining different types of asana practices, such as standing poses, vigorous practices like Sun Salutations, restorative poses including Savasana, and inversions like Shoulderstand. Different practices appeared to be particularly beneficial for specific conditions. Vigorous asana and inversions seemed to help the most with insomnia and body weight, whereas, according to the authors, “because breath work and meditation appear to influence mindfulness and well-being, they may be particularly useful in treating conditions such as depression and anxiety.”
Again, I’ll just point out that what that sounds like is Ashtanga — standing, vigorous… OK, maybe not restorative so much, unless you’re really dedicated to your Savasana.
The authors of the study, and of the above blog, seem to be thinking that a practice at home is “deeper” and more complete than one dominated by runs to the gym/yoga studio. I might suggest they consider looking at Ashtanga, which — I think, but I’m biased — seems to be pretty similar whether one is at home or at a shala. (Or at least it can be. Still a lot of chat-uranga even at your best shala, though.) For instance, check out this from the study:
Because practice frequency was such an important predictor of health, the authors explored differences in yoga practice between intense practitioners (those who practice at home ≥5 days per week) and less intense practitioners (those with a home practice of ≤1 day/week). Intense practitioners reported significantly more years of yoga practice (M = 15.1 ± 6.7 years versus 8.6 ± 7.2 years) than those who were less experienced (t = −12.038, df = 480; P < .001). Intense practitioners practiced more standing poses (M = 17.8 ± 7.6 days per month versus M = 7.2 ± 5.4 days per month; t = −21.587, df = 700; P < .001), more vigorous poses (M = 14.6 ± 8.5 days per month versus M = 4.3 ± 4.6 days per month; t = −19.755, df = 482.31; P < .001), and more inversions (M = 18.04 ± 9.0 days per month versus M = 4.51 ± 4.6 days per month; t = −24.508, df = 468.71; P < .001) than less intense practitioners. Those with high practice frequency report studying philosophy about once per month, compared to those with low practice frequency who study yoga philosophy only about 3 or 4 times per year (P < .001). Intense practitioners had nine times the odds of regularly practicing gentle poses, twice the odds of meditating at least weekly, and nearly three times the odds of practicing breath work at least weekly than those who reported low practice frequency (P < .001).
The greater than five days a week sounds familiar huh?
The findings suggest that different types of asana have different effects; nothing too surprising. Restorative asanas help with sleep; vigorous ones burn off the fat. And I’ll leave you with this:
What one practices, be it the different types of physical poses, breath work, or meditation, is important because the different aspects of yoga practice may well have different health benefits. Randomized clinical trials are needed to examine causal relationships between the different aspects of yoga practice and aspects of health. For instance, does an intervention focusing on gentle poses positively affect feeding behaviors? Does an intervention focusing on vigorous poses effect sleep better than an intervention focusing on gentle poses?
Clearly one should include the Hanuman Chalisa, it goes without saying.
Posted by Steve