Context: Yoga is increasing in popularity, with an estimated 15 million practitioners in the United States, yet there is a dearth of empirical data addressing the holistic benefits of yoga.
Objective: To compare the physical and mental benefits of an exercise-based yoga practice to that of a more comprehensive yoga practice (one with an ethical/spiritual component).
Design: Students with mild to moderate depression, anxiety, or stress and who agreed to participate were assigned to one of three groups: integrated yoga, yoga as exercise, control.
Participants: A total of 81 undergraduate students 18 years and older at a university in the southeastern United States participated in the study.
Main outcome measures: Depression, anxiety, stress, hope, and salivary cortisol.
Results: Over time, participants in both the integrated and exercise yoga groups experienced decreased depression and stress, an increased sense of hopefulness, and increased flexibility compared to the control group. However, only the integrated yoga group experienced decreased anxiety-related symptoms and decreased salivary cortisol from the beginning to the end of the study.
Conclusions: Yoga, practiced in a more integrated form, ie, with an ethical and spiritual component, may provide additional benefits over yoga practiced as an exercise regimen.