Are There Psychological Benefits From An Hour Of Yoga?


September 28, 2021     benefits of yoga | Yoga Research

What psychological benefits do we experience from an hour of yoga?

Research Study At A Glance

The Research Question Asked

Are there psychological benefits from a single session of yoga?

Type of Study

Pre-test/Post-test experimental design

Study Participants (Sample)

  • Sample size: 144 total participants
  • 78% female
  • Mean age 40 years old
  • Mean length of yoga experience was 7 years

Methods

The study evaluated three positive emotions (positive engagement, revitalization, tranquility) and five psychological resources (mindfulness, body consciousness, self-transcendence, spirituality, social connectedness) before and after a 1-hour yoga session. Researchers used eight different questionnaires, each of which was designed to measure one or more of those qualities, to evaluate the psychological variables.

Results

All three positive emotions (positive engagement, revitalization, tranquility) and five psychological resources (mindfulness, body consciousness, self-transcendence, spirituality, social connectedness) increased when compared before and after a single 1-hour yoga session.

Conclusion

There seem to be psychological benefits of yoga. Yoga practice may increase some positive emotions and psychological resources. Effects of yoga are likely specific to style and emphasis in each yoga practice.

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Background

There is a growing body of research that suggests that there are many emotional and psychological benefits of yoga. The effects described often reflect decreases in negative states. Studies indicate that yoga can reduce depression, reduce anxiety, reduce stress, and support positive change in other mental health issues. However, few research teams have looked at whether yoga can simply increase positive emotional and psychological states. And even fewer have examined what mechanisms within a yoga practice might result in those positive changes. This research team explored the idea that there may be relationships between positive psychological resources, like increased mindfulness or body consciousness, and increases in positive emotions.

Different yoga styles emphasize different things. Even within a yoga style, different instructors and even individual sessions can emphasize different things. Some yoga styles may be more likely to increase certain psychological resources like mindfulness or social connectedness, depending on what the emphasis of the yoga style, class, and/or instructor is. This research team explored how the different emphases of an individual session of yoga might influence the psychological resources and positive emotions experienced by practitioners.

Research question

Are there psychological benefits from a single session of yoga?

Research methods

Study participants (sample):

  • 144 total participants
  • 78% female
  • Mean age was 40 years old
  • Mean length of yoga experience was 7 years

The study examined how an individual session of yoga affected three positive emotions, five psychological states, and level of exhaustion. The three positive emotions evaluated were: positive engagement, revitalization, and tranquility. The five psychological states examined included: mindfulness, body consciousness, self-transcendence, spirituality, and social connectedness.

Questionnaires used in the study

Study participants completed eight psychological questionnaires before and after a 1-hour yoga session. They completed the following questionnaires:

  • Private Body Consciousness Subscale of the Body Consciousness Questionnaire
    • This scale assessed body awareness in the past hour.
  • Self-Transcendence Subscale of the Temperament and Character Inventory Scale
  • Peace Subscale of the FACIT-Sp
  • Exercise-Induced Feeling Inventory
  • Essential Properties of Yoga Questionnaire
    • This scale examined which characteristics of yoga styles were present in the yoga session including: postures, challenge, breathwork, meditation, exertion, and teacher warmth.
  • Borg centiMax
  • Therapist Warmth and Friendliness Subscale of the Vanderbilt Psychotherapy Process Scale
    • This scale assessed the warmth and friendliness of the yoga instructor.

After completing each of the questionnaires, study participants took part in a 1-hour session of yoga. They attended a yoga class at one of three different locations and could choose between 11 different styles of yoga. Styles of yoga included: Ashtanga, Baptiste, Bikram, Forrest, Iyengar, Kripalu, Kundalini, Pranayama, Restorative, Vinyasa Flow, and Yin. Following the yoga session, all study participants completed each of the eight questionnaires again.

Results

The three emotions evaluated: positive engagement, revitalization, and tranquility, all increased from before to after the yoga session. Exhaustion decreased when compared before and after the yoga session. The five psychological resources: mindfulness, body consciousness, self-transcendence, spirituality, and social connectedness, all increased from before to after the yoga session. Increases in all five psychological resources were associated with increases in the three emotions examined. However, body consciousness was less strongly related than the others.

Effects of yoga style

Some characteristics of the yoga style practiced, as measured by the Essential Properties of Yoga Questionnaire, were related to changes in psychological resources and emotions. Specifically, more emphasis on restorative postures was associated with increased self-transcendence, spirituality, and tranquility. Greater emphasis on breathwork was associated with an increase in body consciousness and self-transcendence. Feeling more connected to the yoga instructor was associated with increased self-transcendence. Styles that required more physical effort were associated with more exhaustion. None of the yoga style characteristics measured were associated with changes in mindfulness, social connectedness, or revitalization.

Why is this relevant to yoga practitioners?

Yoga has the potential to offer many different kinds of benefits to practitioners. Those might include physical, mental, emotional, and other kinds of benefits. Psychological benefits of yoga are one reason that many practitioners begin a practice. We are often looking for tools to increase equanimity, be more calm, or reduce anxiety, among other effects. Learning more about the psychological benefits that yoga offers is important. The more we understand about how those effects are created during a yoga practice, the more we can tailor our yoga practice to meet our needs and those of our students.

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Conclusion

Research studies indicate that yoga positively impacts our mental and emotional health, as well as our physical wellness. However, there is considerable variation from one yoga style to another. There is even variation between individual instructors or classes of the same style. This research study suggests that increases in some positive emotional states and psychological resources during yoga practice may be related to the yoga style, class, and/or instructor that you experience.

Reference citation

Park, C.L., L. Finkelstein-Fox., E.J. Groessl, A.R. Elwy, and S.Y. Lee. 2020. Exploring how different types of yoga change psychological resources and emotional well-being across a single session. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 49:102354. Pgs:6.

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