Pull on your active wear and breathe out, because this month’s topic for JournalWatch is Yoga.
Studies both here in the US confirm that yoga participation is on the rise, and that people overwhelmingly are participating for their health’s sake. And this, argues Melissa Stoneham, is something the health sector probably shouldn’t ignore.
Melissa Stoneham writes
Yoga – it’s is a philosophy that began in India an estimated 5 000 years ago which aims to provide practice of postures, breathing, and focus points. It claims you can gain a direct experience of the inner self.
Regular yoga practice seems to have multiple benefits to both the individual and community, and some suggest it may reduce the burden on the healthcare system due to associated lifestyle choices such as vegetarianism, non-smoking, reduced alcohol consumption, increased exercise, reduced stress and other mental and physical health benefits. In fact, a recent review in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology showed that yoga reduces the risk of heart disease as much as conventional exercise.
The participation rate for yoga in Australia is unclear however the article that we have selected for this month’s JournalWatch indicates that about 31 million American adults have ever used yoga, and about 21 million practiced yoga in the past 12 months. Yoga does seem to be experiencing a resurgence.
I remember as a small child, my mother had a book on yoga with loads of illustrations. My mother and I often used to place our bodies in strange positions (or at least try) and chant Om at the beginning and end of our session. I contacted my mum to see if she still had the book – and surprisingly she did. It was called “Richard Hittleman’s Yoga 28 Day Exercise Plan” and was published in 1969. I’m not sure I can ever remember mum and I ever finishing the 28 days…but it certainly introduced me to the ancient practice.
Pilots, PMs and pigs
Interestingly yoga has been in the news lately – and it’s not all good news! In late March, a pilot of a United Airlines flight from Honolulu to Narita turned a plane around after hearing that a passenger was yelling at crew members and shoving his wife. The passenger was upset because he didn’t want to sit in his seat during the meal service, so he went to the back of the plane to do yoga and meditate. He became angry when his wife and flight attendants told him to return to his seat.
On a more positive note, a Toronto-area yoga instructor shared a photo on Facebook of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doing a yoga pose on a desk. Since then, it has racked up more than 4500 shares, nearly 10 000 “likes” and inspired comments like “He’s balancing the budget.”
Finally, the cute story of Elsa Pataky, a Spanish actress married to Hollywood actor Chris Hemsworth hit the media recently when she was pictured doing yoga with her pet pig. Seems yoga is not only beneficial for humans! So why this resurgence?
Who, where and why?
Cramer and colleagues from the University of Duisburg-Essen and the Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine at the University of Sydney recently published a paper titled “Prevalence, Patterns, and Predictors of Yoga Use: Results of a U.S. Nationally Representative Survey” in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
This study investigated the prevalence, patterns, and predictors of yoga use in America as a means to evaluate its overall public health impact. The data were generated from the most recent findings of yoga use out of the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) which is a nationally representative survey that monitors the health of the non-institutionalized US population through the collection of health-related data (n= 34 525).
The authors analysed weighted distributions and frequencies descriptively for lifetime prevalence and 12-month prevalence of yoga use, general information on yoga practice (practice format, costs, patterns of yoga practice), health conditions for which yoga was practiced, reasons for yoga practice, and reported outcomes of yoga practice. Additional analyses were conducted to compare sociodemographic characteristics between individuals who had ever used yoga and those who had not.
The results indicated that lifetime and 12-month prevalence of yoga use were 13.2% and 8.9%, respectively. Compared with non-practitioners, lifetime yoga practitioners were more likely female, younger, non-Hispanic white, college educated, higher earners, living in the West and had better health status. Among those who had practiced yoga in the past 12 months, 51.2% had attended yoga classes, 89.9% used breathing exercises and 54.9% used meditation.
The reasons people provided for practising yoga included general wellness or disease prevention (78.4%), to improve energy (66.1%) or to improve immune function (49.7%). Back pain (19.7%), stress (6.4%), and arthritis (6.4%) were the main specific health problems for which people practiced yoga.
The researchers concluded that yoga was in fact on the rise – with an increase of around 6% of U.S. adults now practising yoga compared with a 1998 non-NIHS survey (13.2% current rate). What was interesting was that the predictors of lifetime prevalence of yoga and the main health reasons for practicing yoga practice were pretty much the same as previous yoga surveys.
The authors also identified that the information sources accessed for yoga included books, magazines and the media. However, the most commonly used sources were visual ones, like videos and the Internet, which the authors suggest might be most appropriate for a movement-based practice such as yoga.
In an Australian study, a survey of over 1800 people asked them to identify health issues or medical conditions for which they had used yoga as a management option and to rate the perceived effect of yoga practice on that condition on a seven-point scale. More than half (53%) said they felt “much better” after using yoga for a range of conditions from musculoskeletal through to weight management. From this study, it seems clear that medical conditions and perceptions of quality of life are perceived to be improved by yoga practice.
Go with the flow
The authors of this paper agree, and when you have almost 80% those who practice yoga in the US, doing so to improve their general wellness or for general disease prevention, it seems only common sense to recommend that policymakers, primary care practitioners, yoga specialists and consumers take note of these findings and ensure that yoga is a consideration in population health policies and programs.
With the self-identified health benefits as well as the potential for yoga to offer self-reflection, the practice of kindness and self-compassion and continued growth and self-awareness, maybe it’s time for us to seriously consider adding yoga to our suite of strategies to promote good health and wellbeing.
The Public Health Advocacy Institute WA (PHAIWA) JournalWatch service reviews 10 key public health journals on a monthly basis, providing a précis of articles that highlight key public health and advocacy related findings, with an emphasis on findings that can be readily translated into policy or practice.
The Journals reviewed include:
Australian & New Zealand Journal of Public Health (ANZJPH)
Journal of Public Health Policy (JPHP)
Health Promotion Journal of Australia (HPJA)
Medical Journal of Australia (MJA)
Journal for Water Sanitation and Hygiene Development
Tobacco Control (TC)
American Journal of Public Health (AMJPH)
Health Promotion International (HPI)
American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM)
These reviews are then emailed to all JournalWatch subscribers and are placed on the PHAIWA website. To subscribe click to Journal Watch click here.