The ancient Yogis have known for very long time that long term Yoga practice is good for the body, mind and spirit. This timeless knowledge has been passed on uninterrupted over time, both through oral and practical instruction between Yoga masters and their pupils over the ages. “Time will tell” has been the inherent message in this practice. The knowledge has been passed without break into modern times, and with increasing levels of travel and cultural interchanges, from the East to the West. Yoga is truly timeless, as the resurgence of Yoga in modern times all over the world demonstrates.
All of this should be proof of its own, shouldn’t it! But researchers find the topic as interesting as the Yogis themselves, and as a result, there is a growing amount of research emerging to give us the facts in numbers. However, research is often hampered by the fact that it can go on only for a relatively short amount of time and under controlled conditions. This means that research subjects (i.e. the Yogis concerned) will have to stick to a prescribed regimen of Yoga over the duration of the study. A thing that is pretty much impossible to do over 10 or 20 years of consistent Yoga practice! This means that researchers pretty much always deal with Yoga beginners.
The alternative to this is carry out observational studies: studies which focus on Yogis who have practiced Yoga for many years. Dr Nina Moliver at the Northcentral University at Prescott in the US carried out just such a study, focusing on 211 women aged 45-80, who had been practicing Yoga for as long as 50 years, plus 182 matched controls (that is, women who did not practice Yoga). The study’s objective was to explore a “dose-response” relationship between duration of Yoga experience and related psychological attitudes, perceptions of aging and usage of medication, while eliminating confounding factors such as age, education, body-mass index, other exercise and processed-food consumption.
“I wanted to see if there were linear relationships, where more yoga leads to more benefits,” she says. “Because the yoga masters make these claims, but nobody has ever tested them.” (1)
Perhaps not surprisingly, the study was able to demonstrate that increasing frequency and length of Yoga practice was positively related to better levels of physical and psychological well-being. While the degree of health and happiness was not necessarily higher than that achieved by any of the women who did not practice Yoga, what stood out that the women Yogis were much more consistently healthier and happier than the non-practicing group.
Unfortunately, one question observational studies can’t address is how yoga works. Traditional yoga teaching ascribes its benefits to prana, a Sanskrit word meaning “vital life” – a concept that’s difficult to measure, and thus, as Dr. Moliver points out, easy to ignore. (1)
The type of Yoga which the women in Dr Moliver’s test group practiced did no seem to make a difference – in fact most women borrowed from a range of different practices. What was emphasized however, was that practice included three key elements. These were asanas (Yoga postures), pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation.
All of this pretty much sounds like a “guaranteed health and happiness” benefit if we do Yoga regularly and consistently, doesn’t it!