Fitness Magazine

Home Practice: The Best Way to Improve Your Health and Well-Being (Rerun)

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Timothy McCall

Home Practice: The Best Way to Improve Your Health and Well-Being (Rerun)

Bed in a Mirror by Nina Zolotow

"If you are taking yoga classes but not practicing at home, you may be missing the best—and potentially most therapeutic—part of yoga. Your personal practice is where the deepest work happens, when you go inward and go at your own pace."—from Yoga As Medicine

This quotation from my book got posted on Facebook the other day and generated quite a bit of interest. But not everyone, particularly those who only take classes, agrees with the statement. A woman came up to me at a yoga conference earlier this year to say she’d heard me make a similar comment at a workshop I taught in Los Angeles a few years ago, and it made her really angry. It’s easy to understand that reaction when your experience in class has been so positive, and even healing.

But now scientific research seems to back up the notion that a regular home practice really is the key to health and well-being, perhaps particularly so as we get older. A study recently published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine by researchers at the University of Maryland and the National Institutes of Health found that, among more than 1000 practitioners of Iyengar yoga, the frequency of home practice predicted positive health more than how long you’ve been practicing or how many classes you attend per week. According to the article Frequency of yoga practice predicts health: results of a national survey of yoga practitioners:

“Frequency of home practice favorably predicted (p < .001): mindfulness, subjective well-being, BMI, fruit and vegetable consumption, vegetarian status, sleep, and fatigue.” 

In other words, those who practiced at home the most reported better health and well-being, greater awareness of themselves and others, improved sleep, less fatigue, and healthier body weight. They were even more likely to eat their vegetables! 

The study bore out something else I’ve been teaching for years: when you combine the various tools in the yoga toolbox including asana, breathing practices, meditation and even study of yoga philosophy you tend to get even better results. As the authors put it, “an intense practice involving all aspects of yoga practice may be more beneficial to health than a less intense practice that includes only one or two aspects of yoga practice, such as just practicing the physical poses or breath work.”

There also appeared to be additional benefits for combining different types of asana practices, such as standing poses, vigorous practices like Sun Salutations, restorative poses including Savasana, and inversions like Shoulderstand. Different practices appeared to be particularly beneficial for specific conditions. Vigorous asana and inversions seemed to help the most with insomnia and body weight, whereas, according to the authors, “because breath work and meditation appear to influence mindfulness and well-being, they may be particularly useful in treating conditions such as depression and anxiety.”

One finding that may be of particular interest to readers of this blog has to do with fatigue. Overall, older practitioners had less fatigue than younger practitioners, but both groups improved when they did yoga. But it appears to take less practice for older practitioners to experience improvements in energy.

As for the woman who was mad at me for saying that a home practice was more important than going to classes, she went on to say that, almost despite herself, she did try doing her yoga at home. Now she does it regularly and believes it’s the most important part of her practice. She thanked me profusely, though of course most of all she can thank herself!

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