Introduction: The therapeutic benefits of yoga and meditation are well documented, yet little is known about the practice of yoga in Australia or elsewhere, whether as a physical activity, a form of therapy, a spiritual path or a lifestyle.
Materials and methods: To investigate the practice of yoga in Australia, a national survey of yoga practitioners was conducted utilizing a comprehensive web-based questionnaire. Respondents were self-selecting to participate. A total of 3,892 respondents completed the survey. Sixty overseas respondents and 1265 yoga teachers (to be reported separately) were excluded, leaving 2,567 yoga practitioner respondents.
Results: The typical yoga survey respondent was a 41-year-old, tertiary educated, employed, health-conscious female (85% women). Asana (postures) and vinyasa (sequences of postures) represented 61% of the time spent practicing, with the other 39% devoted to the gentler practices of relaxation, pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation and instruction. Respondents commonly started practicing yoga for health and fitness but often continued practicing for stress management. One in five respondents practiced yoga for a specific health or medical reason which was seen to be improved by yoga practice. Of these, more people used yoga for stress management and anxiety than back, neck or shoulder problems, suggesting that mental health may be the primary health-related motivation for practicing yoga. Healthy lifestyle choices were seen to be more prevalent in respondents with more years of practice. Yoga-related injuries occurring under supervision in the previous 12 months were low at 2.4% of respondents.
Conclusions: Yoga practice was seen to assist in the management of specific health issues and medical conditions. Regular yoga practice may also exert a healthy lifestyle effect including vegetarianism, non-smoking, reduced alcohol consumption, increased exercise and reduced stress with resulting cost benefits to the community.
Keywords: Australia; cardiovascular; exercise; health; injuries; injury; medical; meditation; mental health; musculoskeletal; quality of life; survey; therapy; women's health; yoga.