Embodied in Life: The Lived Experience of a Yoga Practice in Relation to Pro-health Habits
The objective of this doctoral study was to explore the influence of yoga on practitioners’ lives ‘off the mat’, and the idea that yoga can be an effective tool to enable a person to self-regulate in the direction of pro-health habits (diet and exercise). A ‘real world’ approach focused on the lived experience of a yoga practice in a purposive sample of self-identified New Zealand yoga practitioners (n=38; 89.5% female; aged 18 to 65-years, with 60.5% aged 36 to 55-years). The research protocol captured data from yoga practitioners in the context of their own lives and practice, in order to access the subjective experiential narrative of yoga practitioners.
A primarily qualitative mixed-methodology was applied, using a Heideggerian hermeneutic phenomenological perspective in order to explicitly include the researcher’s own experience, or shared meaning, of the research topic. The qualitative methods included in-depth semi-structured interviews (a subset of n=8) and an open-ended online survey. Quantitative methods included online outcome measures (health habits, self-efficacy, interoceptive awareness, and physical activity) in addition to practice component data (tenure, dose, yoga styles, yoga teacher status, meditation frequency) and socio-demographic data.
Four categories emerged from the participant narrative: impact (experiential downstream or flow-on effects of a yoga practice); health behaviour (interrelationship between yoga and pro-health habits); practice (the experience ‘on the mat’); and internal landscape (an inner experience). Thirteen themes provided access to the concepts of self-regulation and mindfulness as an experience, including descriptions that captured both the external and internal experiences of practice such as embodied breath, a sense of grounding, and the ability to pause.
The majority of participants felt that their yoga practice facilitated pro-health habits (63% for diet; 92% for other exercise). Additional reported benefits of yoga included stress management, connection to community, and as a lens or filter through which to engage with life. The yoga practice was a self-sustaining positive feedback loop, experienced as self-regulation guided by an embodied awareness. Attunement to embodiment through movement, is the key narrative to emerge from this study. Through embodiment, movement can potentially elicit self-regulatory pathways that support health.