Yoga Improves Spirituality and Psychological Health Regardless of Instruction
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“While in the Western world most people recognize the more physical practices of yoga – particularly the poses, or asana – it is a practice that’s about much more than just our physical bodies. In Sanskrit language, the word “yoga” literally means “union.” – Katie M.
Yoga developed in India millennia ago as a deep spiritual practice. It developed as a contemplative practice that unified body and mind. Yoga was known to have physical benefits, but the most important benefit was seen to be spiritual development. But as yoga emerged and was practiced in the west it was secularized. This was for good reason, as western society was not ready to accept an ancient eastern spiritual practice. As a result, to the vast majority of westerners, yoga is an exercise for physical fitness. It is a means to mold the body to look good, as a health promoting practice, and as a strategy to help lose weight.
One important factor for the development of spirituality might be the way that practitioners are instructed. If the yoga instruction is focused on spiritual development then it is possible that the spiritual focus elicited would tend to facilitate spiritual growth. On the other hand, if the instruction is focused on physical development, then spiritual development may be lessened.
Placebo and participant expectancy effects are well known to produce profound effects on the individual. So, instruction may be essential to whether physical or spiritual growth develops from yoga practice. This idea has not been well explored.
In today’s Research News article “Verbal Cuing Is Not the Path to Enlightenment. Psychological Effects of a 10-Session Hatha Yoga Practice.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7351526/) Csala and colleagues recruited female yoga naïve undergraduate students and randomly assigned them to receive either 10 weekly 1.5 hour yoga sessions with instructions focusing either on the spiritual aspects of yoga or on the physical benefits of yoga or to a no-treatment control condition. They were measured before and after training for mindfulness, body awareness, positive and negative emotions, and spiritual connections.
They found that there were no significant differences between the two yoga groups so they were merged for comparison to the control condition. The yoga groups in comparison to baseline and the control condition had significant increases in spiritual connections and decreases in negative emotions. Hence, practicing yoga by novice college females increased their spirituality and improved their emotional state.
These results are surprising in that the same increase in spirituality occurred in the yoga groups regardless of whether the spiritual aspects or the physical aspects of yoga were emphasized in the instructions provided. This suggests that yoga has spiritual benefits regardless of the instructions given. Not surprisingly, as observed in previous studies, yoga practice improves the practitioners emotional state. College is a difficult and stressful time and very negative emotions can be elicited interfering with the students’ adjustments to college and performance. The results suggest that yoga practice may be helpful.
So, yoga improves spirituality and psychological health regardless of instruction.
“many people think of yoga as just physical exercises — the asanas or postures that have gained widespread popularity in recent decades — but these are actually only the most superficial aspects of this profound science of unfolding the infinite potential of the human mind and soul.” – Yogananda
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch
Csala, B., Ferentzi, E., Tihanyi, B. T., Drew, R., & Köteles, F. (2020). Verbal Cuing Is Not the Path to Enlightenment. Psychological Effects of a 10-Session Hatha Yoga Practice. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 1375. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01375
Verbal instructions provided during yoga classes can differ substantially. Yoga instructors might choose to focus on the physical aspects of yoga (e.g., by emphasizing the characteristics of the poses), or they might take a more spiritual approach (e.g., by mentioning energy flow and chakras). The present study investigated the effects of verbal cues during yoga practice on various psychological measures. Eighty-four female students (22.0 ± 3.80 years) participated in the study. Two groups attended a beginner level hatha yoga course in which physically identical exercise was accompanied by different verbal cues. The so-called “Sport group” (N = 27) received instructions referring primarily to the physical aspects of yoga practice, while the “Spiritual group” (N = 23) was additionally provided with philosophical and spiritual information. A control group (N = 34) did not receive any intervention. Mindfulness, body awareness, spirituality, and affect were assessed 1 week before and after the training. 2 × 3 mixed (time × intervention) ANOVAs did not show an interaction effect for any of the variables. However, when the two yoga groups were merged and compared to the control group, we found that spirituality increased, and negative affect decreased among yoga participants. In conclusion, yoga practice might influence psychological functioning through its physical components, independent of the style of verbal instructions provided.