Cat Yoga

Looking at Evidence for Yoga in the Midst of a Pandemic

It’s hard to deny that yoga has put an imprint on popular culture – especially popular concepts about fitness and wellbeing. It had an outsized role in defining a now dominant fashion trend – athleisure. Prior to the pandemic, yoga was a roughly ten billion dollar industry. But of course, the pandemic put a dent in that. Nonetheless, yoga remains useful for coping with stress and helping with energy balance. Two recent publications offer a bit of evidence for yoga and its relevance as we adapt to lives altered by the pandemic.

Effects on Energy Balance?

Ann Caldwell and colleagues published the most recent study in Obesity Science and Practice. In their systematic review, they found limited evidence that practicing yoga may help people limit their energy intake (EI) and increase physical activity (PA) in people with overweight and obesity. The authors advise cautious optimism and conducting better studies:

“While the overall body of literature is insufficient to definitively describe the effects of yoga on EI and PA among individuals with overweight and obesity, there is promising preliminary evidence that yoga can lead to improvements in both diet and PA, particularly when added to a lifestyle intervention. More large-scale, rigorously designed studies are needed that are adequately powered to test for between group differences in changes in diet and PA.”

Coping with Pandemic Stress

In PLOS One earlier this year, Pooja Swami Sahni and colleagues write that yoga was an effective strategy for stress and well-being during the COVID-19 lockdown. In support of this conclusion, they offer cross-sectional data on stress, anxiety, and depression. The authors explain why this may be especially useful in the context of the pandemic:

“The balanced representation of the unknown is argued to tone down the fear factor due to uncertainties caused by COVID-19 lockdown, thus decreasing the stress, anxiety
and depression. Such a state of mind allows one to view an adverse situation with a more
pragmatic approach and helps in maintaining a peaceful disposition.”

Some parents currently squabbling about school masking policies might even benefit.

Going Back

It’s unclear if the glory days of the business that yoga was before the pandemic will return. Heidi Kim of Los Angeles summed up the case for doubt in the New York Times:

“I have zero interest in going back to the yoga studio. Of the many things I want to do indoors, sweating with strangers is not high on the list.”

Nonetheless, yoga has and will likely continue to make a difference in the lives of more 300 million people who practice it all over the world. If it can bring us a more peaceful state of mind, we’re all for it.

Click here for the Caldwell study and here for the Sahni study. For perspective on the post-pandemic fitness business, click here and here. Then for a bit on post-pandemic athleisure fashion, click here.

Cat Yoga, photograph © Peter Mulligan / flickr

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August 19, 2021

One Response to “Looking at Evidence for Yoga in the Midst of a Pandemic”

  1. August 22, 2021 at 1:53 pm, said:

    Energy intake (EI) and increase physical activity (PA) are such inherently sloppy and complicated variables. Stress, anxiety, and depression – fuhgeddaboudit.