YogAnatomy Research Project

Assessing Impacts of Yoga Asana Practice on Physical Health and Injury

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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
Inspired by a conversation with Fran Slavich

Background

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 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.

What is the YogAnatomy research project?

The YogAnatomy Research 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 Aim

It was our intention to use this data to inform the yoga community about what practitioners were 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. You’ll find here, a series of articles and papers that share our findings.

Methods

Study design

Our design was a cross-sectional descriptive survey, using a voluntary convenience sample collected with the intent to examine the physical, mental, and emotional 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).

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.

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.

Results: summary statistics

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Age of survey participants ranged from less than 20 to over 75 years of age, with the majority of participants (70%) falling between ages 30-55.

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Survey participants primarily (84.5%) identified as female.

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Survey participants resided primarily (86%) in North America and Europe.

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Most survey participants (70.1%) held either an undergraduate, graduate, or professional degree level of education.

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Leisure activities of survey participants included walking, cycling running hiking/trekking, and dance, among others.

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Practitioners reported the amount of time spent engaging with yoga practice at the time of the survey ranged from less than 6 months to more than 10 years, with more than 81% reporting at least 4 years of yoga practice.

consistently practice

Survey participants presented a fairly even split between reporting that they practice consistently versus practicing off and on.

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Many styles of yoga practice were represented among survey participants including Ashtanga, Hatha, Vinyasa/Power, Yon, and Iyengar among others.

practice yoga with teacher

Those practitioners who practiced with a teacher, reported that they saw their teacher anywhere from 1-7 days per week.

time of day practice yoga

Practitioners were more likely to practice yoga in the morning than in the afternoon or evening.

how long is your yoga practice

Survey participants were most likely to report that a typical yoga practice lasted either 60 or 90 minutes.

how many teachers last 30 days

Fifty percent of survey participants had practiced yoga with either one or two teachers in the 30 days prior to completing the survey.

how many years your teacher practice yoga

Most respondents (69%) practiced with a primary teacher who themselves had been practicing for more than 10 years.

how many days do you practice without a teacher

Respondents typically practiced on their own without a teacher anywhere from 0-7 days per week.

Do you teach asana

A significant portion of survey respondents (60%) also taught yoga.

have you taken a yoga teacher training

A majority (95%) of survey participants had taken a yoga teacher training.

is your yoga teacher registered with yoga alliance

Only 35% of survey respondents practiced yoga with a teacher who was registered with Yoga Alliance.

Results: publications

General Topics

Injuries

Peer-review:

Articles on Yoganatomy.com

Benefits of yoga

Peer-review:

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.

Wiese, C., D. Keil, A. Rasmussen, and R. Olesen. 2019. Effects of yoga asana practice approach on types of benefits experienced. International Journal of Yoga. 12(3):218-225.

Articles on Yoganatomy.com