Introduction:Research is increasingly demonstrating a range of benefits of practicing yoga, such as improved physical and mental health, social connectedness, and self-care. Mechanisms of action are less well understood, but may include both psychological and physiological changes. The aim of this study was to understand more about benefits and mechanisms of yoga practice, using qualitative data collected from a large-scale survey of yoga use in the United Kingdom.
Methods: The mixed methods, cross-sectional online survey collected data on yoga use and perceived benefits from 2434 U.K. yoga practitioners. The qualitative survey element used open-ended questions to gain “real life” data regarding practice and perceived benefits. Data were analyzed thematically and deductively. A practice-based model describing yoga practice, mechanisms, and benefits, based on the Khalsa logic model of yoga, was developed to explain the data.
Findings: Findings highlighted that a diverse range of yoga practices and nonspecific contextual factors related to practicing yoga, needed to be considered to understand how yoga was benefitting people. These practices encompassed both modern and traditional conceptions of yoga as a deeper lifestyle practice. Key mechanisms for change included improvements in physical strength and flexibility, stress regulation, resilience, equanimity, mind–body awareness, and spiritual/personal growth. These mechanisms resulted in diverse improvements in global health functioning, particularly physical and mental health and well-being.
Conclusions: The Khalsa model provided a useful base upon which to guide the new population-practice-based model, to understand participants' “real life” experiences of yoga, how yoga is helping people and why. It provides important information for practitioners, teachers, and those delivering yoga interventions as to the range of skills and potential benefits of yoga practice. In addition, findings indicate directions for future research, by highlighting key yoga mechanisms that researchers may choose to focus on in future studies.