Does Yoga Shape Body, Mind and Spiritual Health and Happiness: Differences between Yoga Practitioners and College Students

Article excerpt

Byline: Elizabeth. Monk-Turner, Charlie. Turner

Background/Aims: To assess the body, mind and spirit differences between yoga students compared with college students. Materials and Methods: Mind, body and spirit survey instruments administered to the two groups. Results: Five indicators to measure mental wellness were significantly different between yoga practitioners and college students. On three of these five measures, college students reported more mental wellness than yoga practitioners - in other words, the relationship was the inverse of what was expected. College students reported maintaining stability in their life more often than yoga practitioners as well as more often experiencing satisfying interpersonal relationships. College students were also more likely than yoga practitioners to report being tolerant of others, whether or not they approved of their behavior or beliefs. Yoga practitioners were more likely than college students to report having strong morals and healthy values as well as the ability to express their feelings and consider the feelings of others. We found differences between yoga practitioners and college students on more than half of our spirit items (five of nine). Yoga practitioners were more likely than college students to report expressing their spirituality appropriately and in healthy ways, recognizing the positive contribution faith could make to the quality of life (significant at the 0.07 level), routinely undertaking new experiences to enhance spiritual health and having a positive outlook on life. Further, we found support for the proposition that yoga practitioners were more likely to report experiencing happiness within. Conclusions: Significant differences between yoga and college students were found on the body, mind and spirit measurement instrument. Further work needs to address the complexities of these relationships.

Introduction

In the Yoga Sutras, yoga is defined to mean, "the yogic experience." Yoga is often translated as "union" of mind, body and spirit. Classically, yoga is understood as the science of the mind. The yogic experience is that which is gained by controlling the modifications of the mind. [sup][1] Sri Patanjali , considered the "father of yoga," is credited with compiling the Yoga Sutras (the threads of yoga), which date anywhere from 5,000 B.C. to 300 A.D. In the West, yoga is primarily thought of as asanas (postures), breathing ( pranayama ) and meditation ( dhyana ). [sup][2] It is estimated that 14.9 million Americans practice yoga and some suggest that yoga has become a transnational world practice. [sup][3],[4] Because many experience relaxation and ease with the practice of yoga, yoga is considered a mind-body exercise. The underlying premise of mind-body exercises is that the physiological state of the body may shape emotions, thoughts and attitudes. [sup][5] In this work, we focus on differences in reported physical, mental, spiritual health and happiness and how this varies between yoga practitioners and a sample of college students.

Defining and measuring wellness and happiness

We assess wellness by using a questionnaire based on the one developed by Hey, Calderon and Carroll. [sup][6] This Body, Mind, Spirit Wellness and Characteristic Inventory (BMS) instrument is used to measure global health issues. How this questionnaire was constructed is detailed in our methodology.

Happiness is a difficult concept to define and measure. Most work carried out in this area allows individuals to self-define whether or not they are happy. One believes that they are happy or that they are not. A simple definition of happiness, from the Webster's dictionary, is "good fortune" or "prosperity. A state of well-being and contentment: Joy." [sup][7] In the General Social Survey, like many other databases, when respondents are asked whether or not they are happy, happiness is self-defined. The respondent theoretically thinks "Am I happy"? …