YogAnatomy Research Project
Dedicated to bringing scientific rigor to the yoga community
Our mission at Yoganatomy.com has always been and continues to be educating and inspiring the yoga community. The YogAnatomy Research Project was born out of a desire to find out what real people are experiencing in their practice. We know, as do you, how beneficial yoga is. But why? What is it about the practices that work for us? Are there negative effects of practice? Are there aspects of practice we should emphasize?
Those are the types of questions we ask using a western scientific model. We use this model because it adds objectivity for us to reflect back into our practices. What we learn has the potential to help us make more informed decisions about what we practice and why. It is our intention to use this data to inform the yoga community about what practitioners are actually experiencing in yoga asana. Through our research, we have learned a lot about how the context in which yoga practice happens is related to outcomes from the practice of asana.
What you’ll find below is who we are, what our latest research is about, and what we’ve done in the past. Below you’ll find a series of articles and papers that share our findings. If you’d like to jump straight to our peer-reviewed journal articles, click here.
Authors and contributors
David Keil, LMT
Christine Wiese, MSc, LMBT
Rikke Olesen, MD, Ph.D
Anne Rasmussen, Ph.D
Web and IT support: Michael Sammut
Statistical consultant: Jared Westbrook, Ph.D
Project: Mental, emotional, and spiritual effects of Ashtanga yoga
Those who practice or have practiced Ashtanga yoga often regard the practice as much more than just gymnastics. But, how is the Ashtanga practice doing with respect to steering us as practitioners toward steadiness of mind (“Yogah citta vrtti nirodhah”)?
Since it has now been several decades since the first western students learned a practice that would become codified as Ashtanga yoga, we have an opportunity to take a look at where practice is taking us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The specificity of the Ashtanga practice lends itself well to studying potential connections between how we practice and the experiences that we have.
What we hope to do with this project is provide data to describe what impacts the practice is actually having. This will provide a clearer picture of the impacts of methods of practice and provide an opportunity for the Ashtanga community to better understand potential impacts and limitations of the practice.
Methods: Study design
Our design was a cross-sectional descriptive survey, using a voluntary sample. The study was structured with the intent to examine both how practice habits and experience change for long-term yoga practitioners over time. The survey, as a whole, was designed to evaluate the effect of Ashtanga yoga on five mental and emotional psychological concepts: compassion, empathy, mindfulness, non-attachment, and spirituality. The effects of Ashtanga yoga practice on compassion, empathy, non-attachment, mindfulness, and spirituality were compared with a control group of runners.
Participants had the opportunity to complete survey questions specifically addressing the following: 1) demographics 2) Ashtanga yoga practice habits or running habits, and 3) compassion, empathy, mindfulness, non-attachment, and spirituality. Compassion was measured using the Compassion Scale (Pommier et al., 2019). Empathy was measured using the Empathic Concern subscale of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (Davis, 1980). Mindfulness was measured using the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory short form (Walach et al., 2006). Non-attachment was measured using the Non-attachment Scale (Sahdra et al., 2010). Finally, spirituality was measured using the Spirituality Index of Well-being (Frey et al., 2005).
Methods: Survey distribution
The survey was distributed internationally to the Ashtanga yoga and running communities through social media notices posted by Yoganatomy.com. Social media posts included information detailing the intent of the project and contained a link to the survey. An invitation to participate in the survey, information on the project, and a link to complete the survey were also distributed by direct email to members of Yoganatomy.com. Finally, those listed as teachers on Ashtanga.com and sharathyogacentre.com were contacted by direct email with an invitation to participate in the survey and to share the survey with their student community and teaching colleagues. The self-administered questionnaire was available in English to be completed by participants at any time between Oct. 1, 2020, and Jan. 12, 2021.
This is in progress. Check back for an update in the next few months (November 29, 2021)
Articles on yoganatomy.com
Project: Yoga asana injuries project
There is a conversation happening within the yoga community about both the purpose and impacts of asana practice. That we are having the conversation is a good thing. It suggests there is a strong interest among yoga practitioners in better understanding the body that we use as a tool for our “spiritual practice” and the impacts that the practice has. Within this very broad question are some more specific questions about the relationship between yoga and injury. However, much of the conversation around injury in yoga has been framed around extreme cases and examples.
What we hoped to do with this project was provide some answers to these questions, and more importantly, add context to the conversation. Yoga asana practice does not occur in a vacuum. Our past health and movement histories, as well as the activities we do concurrently with yoga, impact our physical, mental, and emotional experiences. Discussing the impacts of yoga asana practice within the context of the individual that is doing yoga asana practice, the environment they are practicing in, as well as age, health, and ways of approaching the practice, will create a clearer picture of the actual impacts of practice.
Methods: Study design
Our project began with the distribution of a questionnaire to practitioners of all yoga styles in order to gather information and create context for understanding both the positive and negative outcomes of yoga asana practice. The survey was designed to collect information regarding these main areas:
- Each practitioner’s typical asana practice
- Each Practitioner’s experiences of injuries and/or healing related to yoga asana practice
- Each practitioner’s general health
Our design was a cross-sectional descriptive survey, using a voluntary convenience sample collected with the intent to examine the physical experiences of yoga asana participants. Participants had the opportunity to complete survey questions specifically addressing the following: 1) demographics and leisure activity history, 2) yoga practice habits, and 3) self-reported experiences in yoga practice (positive and negative).
Methods: Survey distribution
The self-administered questionnaire was distributed internationally to the yoga community through Yoga International, Yoganatomy.com, and Yoga Alliance email registry. No individual survey questions were required; participants could choose to opt out of answering any question. All responses were anonymous.
Methods: Data analysis
Since each question was optional, a total sample size for each question as well as percent of total in each response category was calculated. More than half of respondents (58%) indicated that they practiced multiple styles, so data was analyzed across styles of practice. Responses from the open-ended question asking respondents to describe their injury were coded to summarize type of injury, severity of injury, and reason for injury. A Chi-square goodness-of-fit test was calculated to evaluate whether individual contexts of injury in yoga practice were significantly more likely. A p-value of ≤ 0.01 was used to delineate a statistically significant effect. Cramer’s V was used to evaluate effect size of significant relationships. A Cramer’s V value was used to indicate a weak association when it was between 0.1 and 0.2, a moderate association when it was between 0.3 and 0.4, and a strong association when it was equal to or greater than 0.5.
A Chi-square test of independence was used to evaluate associations between yoga practice approaches and either likelihood of reporting an injury in yoga or individual benefits of yoga practice. All yoga practice contexts that individually had a significant association with experiencing an injury in yoga were examined together using multiple logistic regression to identify predictors of reporting an injury in yoga. Likewise, multiple logistic regression was used to identify which approaches to hatha yoga practice predicted participants reporting particular benefits. A p-value of ≤ 0.01 was used to delineate a statistically significant effect. A backwards elimination model selection procedure was used to select all final models. Odds ratios and predicted probabilities were used to report strength of predictors in the final logistic regression models. All statistical analyses were performed using R version x64 3.3.2 statistical software package.
Wiese, C., D. Keil, A. S. Rasmussen, R. Olesen. 2018. Injury in yoga asana practice: Assessment of the risks. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapy.
Wiese, C., D. Keil, A. Rasmussen, and R. Olesen. Teacher authorization and consistency positively predicts physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational benefits of Ashtanga yoga practice. Poster presented at: Yoga and Science. 2019; Jan. 19-20 Brooklyn, NY.