Yoga May Aid Body Image, Cut Eating Disorders
Mind-Body Workout May Help Women Make Peace With Their Bodies
May 20, 2005 -- Yoga may make women feel better about their bodies, steering
them away from eating disorders, a new study shows.
In fact, yoga may have an edge over other forms of exercise in that regard,
according to the study in the Psychology of Women Quarterly.
The reason may be yoga's mind-body aspect, say the researchers, who included
psychologist Jennifer Daubenmier, PhD, of California's Preventive Medicine
"Through yoga, this study suggests that women may have intuitively
discovered a way to buffer themselves against messages that tell them that only
a thin and 'beautiful' body will lead to happiness and success," says
Daubenmier in a news release.
If backed by further research, yoga may help prevent and treat eating
disorders, say researchers.
Daubenmier worked on the project as a graduate student at the University of
California, Berkeley. She compared women who practiced yoga regularly with
those who did other forms of exercise. Women who hadn't done either form of
exercise for at least two years were also included.
First, Daubenmier and colleagues studied women who were 37 years old on
average. Next, they studied college-aged women.
The women completed surveys about the type of exercise they performed, how
often they did it, and their feelings about their bodies. Those who practiced
yoga expressed healthier attitudes toward their bodies and had less disordered
Meanwhile, spending more time on aerobic forms of exercise (such as running
or exercise classes) was associated with greater disordered eating attitudes,
the study shows.
That's not to say that the women had eating disorders. Instead, the
inclination toward disordered eating generally included "dieting behaviors,
like restricting food intake," Daubenmier tells WebMD.
The researchers say body mass index didn't explain the findings because they
took that into account.
Which Came First: Yoga or Body Image?
Did yoga enhance women's sense of their bodies, or did it attract women who
already felt good about themselves? More research is needed to find out.
Daubenmier's study didn't assign women to do any particular form of
Also, "most individuals at risk [for eating disorders] are younger"
than many women in the study, says Daubenmier.
Of course, many women who exercise aerobically don't have eating disorders.
Health experts encourage men, women, and children to exercise regularly and
lead an active lifestyle for optimum health.
Yoga practitioners learn to tune in to the body as it moves through the
poses. That could emphasize the body's abilities, instead of its appearance,
say the researchers.
Tips for Yoga Novices
Most of the study's yoga fans practiced Iyengar yoga. "That invites
participants to develop sensitivity and responsiveness, in contrast to more
fast-paced yoga," Daubenmier tells WebMD.
"I would recommend starting with slower Iyengar yoga to develop body
awareness and familiarity with the poses," she says. The slower pace should
help people avoid injury while developing confidence in listening to their
bodies, says Daubenmier.