Academic journal article International Journal of Yoga

Elements of Yogic Practice: Perceptions of Students in Healthcare Programs

Academic journal article International Journal of Yoga

Elements of Yogic Practice: Perceptions of Students in Healthcare Programs

Article excerpt

Byline: Christiane. Brems, Dharmakaya. Colgan, Heather. Freeman, Jillian. Freitas, Lauren. Justice, Margaret. Shean, Kari. Sulenes

Background: The practice of yoga has a long history as an integrated lifestyle science. Those who have practiced yoga in its full form (including all eight traditional aspects) find that it touches almost every aspect of their inter- and intra-personal lives. Despite this rich history, the West has adopted limited aspects of yoga practice. When understood narrowly as a physical fitness practice, healthful benefits of yoga may be lost, possibly promoting body-consciousness and injury instead. Aim: To understand whether students in healthcare programs view yoga from a physical fitness versus holistic perspective, we explored perceptions of what constitute yoga's essential practices. Methods: We assessed endorsement of the eight limbs of yoga via the acceptability of yoga survey. The sample (n = 498) was recruited from programs in 10 healthcare professions at a Northwestern university. Participants were categorized as nonyogis, contemplators, yogis, and superyogis. Results: Across all groups, findings confirmed a narrow definition of yoga as portrayed in popular media and gym-based yoga classes. Breathing and posture practices were the most commonly endorsed practices, even among the sample's most seasoned yoga practitioners. Ethical practices and daily commitments of introspection, disciplined practice, or living with purity were least commonly associated with yoga despite their foundational nature in yoga philosophy. Concentration and meditation practices were only moderately endorsed as essential practices. Super-yogis endorsed a wider variety of limbs than nonyogis, contemplators, and yogis. Conclusions: We offer a rationale for these findings along with recommendations that may help augment the definition of yoga and hence maximize its benefits.


The practice of yoga has long and ancient roots that may reach back two millennia. This ancient, historically Eastern wisdom tradition of yoga is a collection of varied practices and commitments reflecting a specific way of life that reaches nearly all aspects of daily functioning. This lifestyle system is comprised of eight linked, yet distinctive practices: Ethical life choices, personal observances, posture practices, breathing exercises, sense withdrawal, concentration practices, meditation, and absorption. The definitions of these eight limbs of yoga are shown in [Table 1].{Table 1}

Modern yoga, as practiced in the West, has a relatively short tradition, dating to the import of yoga to the United States and Europe from India in the late 19[sup]th and early 20[sup]th century. Yoga as practiced in the West at the turn of the 20[sup]th century strongly emphasized meditation and self-reflection and was seen as a way to find absorption and awakening. As Western yoga moves into the 21[sup]st century, however, it is increasingly focused on physical health and fitness. Recent historical reviews of modern postural practices are compelling in their analysis and point out that many modern forms of Western yoga have become disconnected from their integrative, ancient roots in Eastern yoga.[sup][2],[3],[4] This shift is reflected most notably in the media's portrayal of modern yoga, which is strongly biased toward presenting yoga as a physical practice in general, and a flexibility practice in particular.[sup][5]

Interestingly, even in the East, the physical aspects of yoga have become increasingly altered by Western influences (beginning as early as the 19[sup]th century), giving evidence to yoga as an evolving practice, no matter where it finds expression. However, despite an athletic and physical fitness influence on asana (posture) practice, Eastern yoga continues to adhere to all eight limbs. This has also been true for a quieter and less visible following of yoga in the West.[sup][6] Yogis who engage in more traditional expressions of yoga as a lifestyle are firmly rooted in and committed to the classic texts (e. …

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