Date Published: 5 November 2015

USA study reveals that yoga is associated with higher feelings of wellbeing

Why bother with yoga ? Many Americans have reported improvements in wellbeing as a result of practicing at least some form of yoga.

Yoga has been defined as 'a physical, mental, and spiritual practice or discipline'. Although it originated in India where it has a place in several religious traditions including forms of Hinduism and Buddhism, there are now many different types or styles of yoga practiced across the world for even more different reasons and benefits. Various studies, trials and surveys have been carried out to try to establish the effectiveness, or otherwise, of yoga to alleviate the symptoms of specific health conditions - a notoriously difficult task in the cases of such integrative or 'Mind, Body, Spirit' approaches to wellbeing.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), an American organization whose mission includes investigating and reporting on the usefulness and safety of complementary and integrative health approaches and their roles in improving health and health care1 conducts an annual study in which thousands of Americans are interviewed about their health- and illness-related experiences. The 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) collected data from 34,525 adults.

According to data from the 2012 NHIS, Americans who reported practicing yoga or who took dietary supplements other than vitamins and minerals were more likely to do so because they wanted to enjoy general wellbeing than to treat a specific health condition.

Yoga users reported more positive health benefits than the people who took natural products and/or had spinal manipulation.

" Though yoga seems to play the biggest role, people who use a variety of complementary health approaches reported better wellbeing," said Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., director of NCCIH.

" This may suggest that people perceive more wellness benefit when they are actively involved in their health, for example by practicing yoga. More research is needed to better understand the ways yoga and other approaches impact overall health."

Data collected by the survey enabled researchers to analyze wellness-related reasons for and outcomes from the use of three popular alternative or complementary health approaches, namely:

  1. Use of natural product supplements, i.e. dietary supplements other than vitamins and minerals
  2. Practicing Yoga
  3. Receiving spinal manipulation.

Of these three approaches, the people who practiced yoga were found to be more likely than users of the other approaches to report specific wellness-related outcomes, such as feeling better emotionally. They were also the most likely to report exercising more, eating better, and cutting back on alcohol and cigarettes. While the analysis did not show why yoga users reported greater wellness, over 70% of yoga practitioners reported a "focus on the whole person ? mind, body and spirit" as a reason for practicing yoga.

Specific findings of the analysis included 2:

  • "General wellness or disease prevention" was the most common wellness-related reason for use of each of the three approaches.
  • More than 66% of users of all three health approaches reported that their use improved their overall health and made them feel better.
  • Almost 66% of yoga users said that as a result of practicing yoga they felt motivated to exercise more regularly, and 40% said that they were motivated to eat healthier.
  • More than 80% of yoga users reported a reduction in stress as a result of practicing yoga.
  • Although dietary supplement users were twice as likely to report wellness rather than treatment as a reason for taking supplements, it is interesting to note that fewer than 25% reported reduced stress, better sleep, or feeling better emotionally as a result of using dietary supplements.
  • More than 60% of those using spinal manipulation reported doing so to treat a specific health condition, and more than 50% did so for general wellness or disease prevention (implying that for some people both reasons applied).

Summary information on the NIH website2 did not include details about the types of yoga reported by the people surveyed or the frequency with which participants in the survey either practiced yoga or followed the other approaches such as taking dietary supplements or having spinal manipulations. Nevertheless, the overall impression given is that many people consider yoga beneficial to their health and wellbeing.

" The NHIS is the principle source of health information on U.S. adults. Our results suggest that complementary health approaches may play an important role in promoting positive health behaviors, including those we know impact chronic conditions," said Barbara Stussman, statistician for NCCIH and author of the analysis.

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