Sample and exclusions
A total of 3,892 respondents completed the survey. Sixty overseas respondents were excluded. About one-third (1,265) of respondents were identified as yoga teachers or training to become yoga teachers and therefore excluded from this analysis (to be reported separately) on the basis of their vocational interest in yoga, leaving 2,567 yoga practitioners.
Demographic and socio-economic characteristics
compares the demographic characteristics of respondents to the Australian population from Australian Census and Trends data.[38
] Survey participants were well distributed by State and metropolitan or rural location, but as expected, were not statistically representative of the Australian population. Likewise, given that respondents were self-selecting, they also cannot be said to be representative of all Australians who practice yoga, despite the large national response to the survey.
Comparison of demographic characteristics of respondents with the Australian population from ABS census/trends data
The mean age of respondents was 41.43 years (SD=11.56) with 85.5% of those females. However, the proportion of women to men varied by style of yoga, with a higher proportion of men practicing the more physical styles of yoga, e.g. Bikram (hot) yoga with 20.3% male participants. Most respondents had a tertiary or post-tertiary qualification (81.4%) and most were employed (82.3%) either full-time (49.4%), part-time (18.6%) or self-employed (14.3%). Of those who were employed, 14.6% reported employment in the healthcare industry, most commonly nursing. A quarter of respondents (26.6%) reported household income of more than A$110,000 p.a, while three quarters (76.1%) had a household income above A$50,000 p.a. The mean number of wage earners per household was 1.73 (SD=0.675).
More than half of respondents (56.6%) practiced once or twice a week, while another 24.1% practiced 3-4 sessions a week. The most popular session lengths were 60-70 min and 90-100 min (M=83.5 min, SD=34.23). Most respondents (79.1%) did most or all of their practice in a yoga class (rather than at home). The mean years since first starting was 9.17 years (SD=9.34), while the mean years of regular practice was 5.62 (SD=5.96). Lack of time (family or work commitments) was the most common reason for stopping practice (78.1%), followed by lack of money (21.5%) and availability of classes (18.3%).
About 61% of the time spent for practicing was devoted to asana/postures (48.8%) and vinyasa/dynamic sequences of postures (12.0%). The other 39% of practice time was devoted to pranayama/breathing techniques (9.1%), meditation (10.1%), relaxation (11.1%) and other practices including instruction and discussion (8.9%). Respondents spent an average of A$83.95 per month (SD=70.23) on their practice, comprising yoga classes ($70.36) and related spending ($13.59).
Religious and spiritual orientation
While 68% of the population identified themselves as Christian in the 2002 Australian Census,[42
] only 34.8% of survey respondents indicated they held ‘Christian’ beliefs, whereas about a quarter of respondents (27.7%) indicated they held ‘spiritual but non-religious’ beliefs. Similarly, while Buddhism represented about 2% of the Australian population in the Census, 6.2% of survey respondents held Buddhist beliefs. When religious orientation was cross-tabulated by years of regular practice as shown in , 43.0% of respondents who had practiced for 0-1 years identified with Christianity compared to 27.9% of those who had practiced for 6-7 years. The proportion of those with spiritual but non-religious beliefs and those with Buddhist beliefs was also generally higher in those who had practiced for more years.
Religious orientation by years of regular practice
Motivations for beginning and continuing
shows the reasons given for beginning and continuing yoga practice. Respondents were able to select multiple reasons. ‘Health and fitness’, and ‘increased flexibility/muscle tone’ were the most common reasons for starting (both about 71%) and continuing yoga practice (82% and 86% respectively). While 58.4% of respondents gave ‘reduce stress or anxiety’ as a reason for starting, 79.4% found this to be a reason for continuing. Only 19% of students initially saw yoga as a spiritual practice; however, this increased to 43% once practicing. Similarly, 29% initially saw yoga as a form of personal development, increasing to 59% as a reason for continuing to practice. About 20% indicated a specific health or medical reason for practice.
Motivations for beginning and continuing yoga practice
Dietary and lifestyle choices
The survey asked respondents to describe their dietary and lifestyle choices and whether this choice had been influenced by their yoga practice. Results were cross-tabulated by years of regular practice as shown in . The proportion of respondents who were non-smoking, vegetarian or had a preference for organic foods was generally higher in those with more years of practice. By contrast, the proportion of non-alcohol drinking respondents remained relatively consistent regardless of years of practice. Other dietary choices, such as preference for low-fat and low-sugar foods were also more prevalent amongst those with more years of practice.
Dietary and lifestyle choices by years of regular practice
Those who reported that their lifestyle choice was influenced by their yoga practice provided a useful comparison with the years of practice data. For example, while the proportion of non-smoking respondents was seen to increase by as much as 8.5% between novices and those who had practiced for 8-9 years, this was somewhat reinforced by the 8.9% of respondents who said their decision not to smoke had been influenced by their yoga practice.
Sporting and physical activity
Participation in sport and physical activity in the previous 12 months was compared with known national participation rates,[3
] as shown in . In the case of aerobics, yoga survey respondents closely reflected the national participation figures, and also had similar participation figures in outdoor soccer and basketball; however, they exceeded the national participation rate in all other activities. In four of the top five national physical activities (walking, swimming, cycling and running), respondents were nearly three times more likely to participate than the general public.
Participation in sporting and physical activity of yoga survey respondents compared to Australian Sports Commission national participation rates
Health and medical conditions
The survey asked respondents to identify any health issues or medical conditions for which they had used yoga as a management option and to rate the perceived effect of yoga practice on that condition on a seven-point scale. Conditions were grouped into seven categories, examples given as follows:
Musculoskeletal Back, neck and shoulder pain, muscular pain, arthritis, disc injuries
Mental health Stress, anxiety and related disorders, depression, sleep difficulties
Women's health Pre/post pregnancy, pre menstrual syndrome, menopause
Gastrointestinal Irritable bowel syndrome, coeliac disease, constipation, indigestion
Respiratory Asthma, bronchitis, other respiratory problems
Cardiovascular Blood pressure, diabetes, metabolic (insulin resistance) syndrome
Other Weight management, other conditions
The 1,862 respondents who answered this question reported a total of 4,754 conditions, which overall they perceived as:
Much better 53.3% (2563 conditions)
Better 29.3% (1374)
Little better 12.5% (583)
No change 4.5% (213)
Little worse 0.3% (15)
Worse 0.0% (2)
Much worse 0.4% (4)
The health issues and medical conditions reported are shown in . The perceived benefit of yoga practice on the conditions in each category is shown in .
Perceived effect of yoga practice on health and medical conditions by category
Perceived effect of yoga practice on health and medical conditions by category (respondents were able to report multiple health/medical conditions. N=1862 participants reported, n=4754 conditions in 7 categories)
Together, stress management (15.63% of all conditions reported) and anxiety (8.25%) were more commonly being addressed by yoga practice than by back (11.84%), neck (6.69%) and shoulder (2.33%) pain and related musculoskeletal problems. Women's health was the next largest category (8.81% of conditions) with reported improvement in pre-menstrual and menopausal symptoms and assistance during and after pregnancy, ahead of gastrointestinal (6.77%), respiratory (6.42%), and cardiovascular conditions (3.66%), with consistent improvement reported across all categories. Weight management (4.77%) was also seen to be assisted by yoga practice. Health conditions were only seen to worsen in 19 of 4,754 instances.
Perceptions of quality of life
The survey asked respondents to indicate how their practice of yoga had influenced their quality of life also on a seven-point scale, in five categories as follows:
Physical health Fitness, muscle tone, flexibility, energy levels
Mental health Memory, depression, sense of purpose, positivity
Emotional health Emotional stability, anger, stress or anxiety levels
Spiritual health Relationship with higher power, sense of inner peace and happiness
Relationships Quality of close relationships, friends, family life, sex-life
A total of 2,389 respondents reported 10,386 measures of quality of life across the five categories, as shown in . Perceptions of physical health were the most improved, followed by mental and emotional health. Spiritual health and close relationships were also seen as improved, but not as much as for the other domains. Quality of life was only seen to worsen in 14 of 10,386 instances, and of these, most in the area of relationships (12).
Effect of yoga practice on perceptions of quality of life by category (respondents were able to report perceptions of quality of life in multiple categories. N=2,389 respondents reported, n=10,386 quality of life measures in 5 categories)
The survey asked respondents whether they ever had an injury that may have been attributable to their yoga practice. Of the 2353 respondents who answered this question, 1851 (78.7%) indicated they had never been injured while practicing yoga. The remaining 502 respondents (21.3%) reported 576 injuries, including many minor strains, injuries that happened more than 12 months ago, recurrences of pre-existing injuries, and injuries that happened during home practice (not under supervision).
For the purposes of determining a meaningful yoga-related injury rate, an injury was defined as requiring medical treatment or similar intervention, OR causing prolonged pain, discomfort or suffering, OR resulting in time off work or similar financial loss. The proportion of respondents injured in the previous 12 months, including unsupervised practice (e.g. at home) and recurrences of pre-existing conditions, was 4.6%. For injuries occurring under supervision (e.g. in a yoga class) including recurrences of pre-existing conditions in the previous 12 months, the injury rate was 3.4%. For new injuries only, occurring under supervision in the previous 12 months, the injury rate was 2.4%.
Where provided, practices most commonly associated with injuries were headstands (7.4% of injuries reported), shoulder stands (6.3%), lotus and half lotus (seated cross-legged position) (5.3%), forward bends (4.8%), backward bends (3.1%) and handstands (2.5%). Respondents commonly took the blame for the injury on themselves, citing reasons such as ‘pushing it too far’ and not warming up, along with being ‘ego driven’.