Can Yoga Improve Self-Image?


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Yoga is like a miracle drug. It has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety , improve mood, reduce inflammation, counteract depression , and promote sleep and breathing, among other things.

New research published in the journal Body Image adds another benefit to the list. In this latest article, researchers at Washington State University show that a regular regimen of yoga can improve individuals' body appreciation.

Here's how they arrived at this conclusion. They recruited 376 undergraduates from Washington State University who were enrolled in a 16-week yoga class. The researchers asked participants to complete measures of mindfulness and body appreciation at various points throughout the 16-week course.

They measured mindfulness in two ways. First, they measured "trait" mindfulness, using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire. This scale, developed by researchers at the University of Kentucky, asks people to rate how well various statements describe them, such as "when I’m walking, I deliberately notice the sensations of my body moving" or "I’m good at finding words to describe my feelings."

They also measured "state" mindfulness using 6 questions from the State Mindfulness Scale for Physical Activity. Participants were asked to think about the sensations they felt during their most recent yoga class. The questions (for example, “I was aware of how my body felt”) were scored on a 5-point scale ranging from "not at all" to "very much."

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Finally, they measured body image using the Body Appreciation Scale. This 13-item scale is an agree-disagree measure of people's acceptance of their body and contains questions such as "I respect my body," "I am attentive to my body's needs," and "I do not focus a lot of energy being concerned with my body shape or weight."

As they hypothesized, the researchers found upward movement in the body appreciation scale at later timepoints during the yoga course. This suggests that yoga does, in fact, improve self-image .

Interestingly, they tied the rise in body appreciation to a concomitant increase in trait mindfulness. They write, "The rate at which participants increased in trait mindfulness also coincided with change in body appreciation. This indicates that the more participants’ general disposition to be mindful grew throughout the 16 weeks, the more they appreciated all of the unique functions and characteristics of their body."

While this study was not without its limitations (for example, it draws from a self-selected and demographically narrow sample), the takeaway seems clear: yet another reason to book your next yoga class.

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