Proof That Yoga Works

A Harvard/Kripalu study links yoga to mindfulness, self-compassion, reduced stress, and life satisfaction.

July 1, 2012    BY Olga Overmeyer

The Study

Effects of a Yoga-Based Intervention for Young Adults on Quality of Life and Perceived Stress: The Potential Mediating Roles of Mindfulness and Self-Compassion.
(Gard T., Brach N., Hölzel B.K., Noggle J.J., Conboy L.A., and Lazar S.W., 2012)

Yoga practitioners frequently comment on the positive effects they experience during and after practice—improved mood, a sense of inner peace, increased energy, lower stress levels, and relief from aches and pains. But no matter how frequent or heartfelt, subjective comments like these don’t offer proof. That’s why a group of researchers from Harvard University and Kripalu Yoga Center’s Institute for Extraordinary Living—interested in how mindfulness and self-compassion affect individuals—devised this study.

They recruited 33 participants from a group of college students voluntarily enrolled in a four-month residential yoga program. The participants spent several hours a day learning traditional yoga practices—including pranayama, asana, and meditation—and tools for integrating yoga skills into daily life. They (and a demographically matched control group) filled out before-and-after questionnaires that measured four factors: mindfulness, self-compassion, perceived stress, and quality of life.

The Results

Not surprisingly, the program participants reported that their quality of life—as measured by the level of satisfaction they felt in various areas of experience, from career to leisure—improved, and their levels of perceived stress decreased. The control group, on the other hand, deteriorated over the four-month period.

The study also noted that mindfulness and self-compassion scores were explicitly related to well-being outcomes. That is, the more a participant articulated the qualities of mindfulness and self-compassion, the more life satisfaction and stress resistance she felt.

What This Means

While this is a small pilot study, the results suggest not only that a yoga-based education program can support well-being and bolster mental health during young adulthood, but that mindfulness meditation and yoga work in similar ways and produce similar results.

Moreover, the study demonstrates that we can cultivate mindfulness and self-compassion with study and practice. Providing support for something most of us already believe, this study affirms that the path toward health and fulfillment is sustained by intentional awareness and kindness toward oneself.

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