Yoga in Australia: Results of a National Survey

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen. Penman, Marc. Cohen, Philip. Stevens, Sue. Jackson

Introduction: The therapeutic benefits of yoga and meditation are well documented, yet little is known about the practice of yoga in Australia or elsewhere, whether as a physical activity, a form of therapy, a spiritual path or a lifestyle. Materials and Methods: To investigate the practice of yoga in Australia, a national survey of yoga practitioners was conducted utilizing a comprehensive web-based questionnaire. Respondents were self-selecting to participate. A total of 3,892 respondents completed the survey. Sixty overseas respondents and 1265 yoga teachers (to be reported separately) were excluded, leaving 2,567 yoga practitioner respondents. Results: The typical yoga survey respondent was a 41-year-old, tertiary educated, employed, health-conscious female (85% women). Asana (postures) and vinyasa (sequences of postures) represented 61% of the time spent practicing, with the other 39% devoted to the gentler practices of relaxation, pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation and instruction. Respondents commonly started practicing yoga for health and fitness but often continued practicing for stress management. One in five respondents practiced yoga for a specific health or medical reason which was seen to be improved by yoga practice. Of these, more people used yoga for stress management and anxiety than back, neck or shoulder problems, suggesting that mental health may be the primary health-related motivation for practicing yoga. Healthy lifestyle choices were seen to be more prevalent in respondents with more years of practice. Yoga-related injuries occurring under supervision in the previous 12 months were low at 2.4% of respondents. Conclusions: Yoga practice was seen to assist in the management of specific health issues and medical conditions. Regular yoga practice may also exert a healthy lifestyle effect including vegetarianism, non-smoking, reduced alcohol consumption, increased exercise and reduced stress with resulting cost benefits to the community.

Introduction

Yoga is an ancient Eastern philosophy of living that includes techniques such as physical postures (asana), breathing practices (pranayama), meditation and relaxation, moral codes and other practices. [sup][1] Together, these practices are said to provide a path to self-realization, or union between the individual and the universal consciousness. [sup][2] In Western society, aspects of yoga are commonly practiced for exercise, relaxation or for their therapeutic potential; however, little is known about the actual practice of yoga in Australia, whether as a physical activity, a form of therapy, a spiritual path or a lifestyle.

Participation and practice

The participation rate for yoga in Australia is unclear. Studies designed to measure participation in sport and physical activities report yoga participation at between 1.7% [sup][3] and 2.9% [sup][4] of the adult population in 2005-2006, making yoga the 13 [sup]th or 14 [sup]th most popular physical activity respectively, just ahead of Australian Rules football. In those studies, yoga participants were most likely to be women (90%) and in the 25-34 and 35-44 age groups. Class attendance and home practice was evenly split with most people practicing at least once a week or fortnight for at least part of the year. By contrast, a national survey of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) use in Australia in 2005 found participation in yoga as a CAM therapy was 6.8% of the adult population for practitioner visits (i.e. attending a yoga class), and 12.0% for all use of yoga including practitioner visits and home practice. [sup][5]

In the US, yoga participation was estimated at 7.5% of the adult population in 2004-2005 with 77% being females. Participants generally practiced 2-4 times a week with 71% attending yoga classes. Motivators for yoga practice were, in order of frequency; flexibility, stress reduction, strength, fitness, personal growth, mental health and spiritual development. …