Exploring Strategies to Enhance Self-Efficacy about Starting a Yoga Practice

Research Article

Ann Yoga Phys Ther. 2016; 1(3): 1012.

Exploring Strategies to Enhance Self-Efficacy about Starting a Yoga Practice

Justice L*, Brems C and Jacova C

School of Professional Psychology, Pacific University, USA

*Corresponding author: Lauren Justice, School of Professional Psychology, Pacific University, 190 SE 8th Avenue, Hillsboro, Oregon, 97123, USA

Received: October 03, 2016; Accepted: October 31, 2016; Published: November 03, 2016


Yoga demonstrates promising effects in the treatment of a range of mental and physical health symptoms and is cost-effective. However, its rise in popularity has attracted a specific demographic: practitioners tend to be female, white, and well-educated. The study explored the impact of commercial versus educational representations of yoga in the context of a lecture on building a yoga practice.

The study used a randomized experimental design and measures of selfcompassion, self-efficacy, and social physique anxiety to assess changes from baseline to post-stimulus and then post-lecture. Participants were 18 years or older, students of Pacific University, and English speakers. Participants were randomly assigned to control (exposure to a handout of the eight limbs of yoga) or experimental conditions (exposure to a copy of Yoga Journal). Exposure to conditions was followed by a brief presentation on beginning a yoga practice.

ANCOVAs were calculated (using gender as a covariate) to analyze findings (n=52). Significant improvements emerged related to self-efficacy. For men, increase in self-efficacy was greater with exposure to an educational handout. Additionally, ANOVAs were calculated to examine the overall impact of the lecture on self-efficacy and self-compassion (n=81). Significant changes emerged over time for self-efficacy but not self-compassion.

Findings demonstrate that brief interventions can improve self-efficacy about starting a yoga practice. Degree of improvement was dependent on the materials individuals were exposed to. Effectiveness of materials differed for men versus women. Men were found to be more negatively affected by stereotypic images of yoga.

Keywords: Yoga; Media; Self-efficacy; Gender


In a recent National Institutes of Health survey, yoga was found to be one of the ten most commonly used complementary and alternative practices [1]. There is ample research to support the use of yoga for a range of mental and physical health problems [2], it is costeffective, and is growing in accessibility. However, while yoga usage has increased within the United States, it has done so mostly within a very narrow demographic. Specifically, yoga users tend to be female, white, and well-educated [3-5]. Some of the most common barriers to yoga practice are fear of injury, lack of flexibility, time commitment, cost, and difficulty connecting to a teacher [4-6]. These barriers have been found to have a particularly adverse effect on male practitioners and individuals contemplating beginning a personal yoga practice [7].

Recent research has attempted to identify how different motivators may influence how practitioners approach yoga and what they receive from their practice. In a study on body-awareness and spiritual beliefs in yoga practitioners, results indicated that female participants who pursued their practice for psycho spiritual reasons, as opposed to physical reasons, were more likely to rate their practice as self-guided and spend more time practicing both at home and with others [8]. Intentions for practice may thus influence the benefits received from this practice.

As weight loss and physical fitness continue to be ranked among the most common motivators for practice [7], researchers are becoming increasingly interested in the potential harm that differing perceptions of practice may have upon practitioners. Although past research suggests that yoga benefits practitioners with body image and disordered eating issues [9-11] research investigating the impact of yoga and Pilates on body image found different outcomes between genders [12]. Specifically, yoga/Pilates did not have a significant impact upon disordered and unhealthy eating behaviors in women, but they did negatively affect men. Research has also shown higher rates of self-reported problems with eating disorders amongst female yoga practitioners [8]. These discrepancies are cause for concern for health professionals interested in referring patients to this practice. They also prompt questions about how potential yoga practitioners are affected by information and media images they encounter about yoga.

Due to the success of initial findings in the ability of yoga to increase wellbeing and reduce stress, yoga researchers have suggested that it may be beneficial for college and university students to use this ancient practice to help them cope with the demands of their educational settings [13-15]. College and university students are more likely than other similarly-aged populations to experience depression, attempt suicide, establish poor sleeping habits, consume harmful or illegal substances, smoke tobacco, and gain weight [16]. Additionally, they report more stress, a primary inhibitor of academic performance [16-18] and a leading cause of dropout rates [19]. Given the documented success of yoga in ameliorating these symptoms common to college students [2,14,20], yoga may be an effective coping skill for this population [14,21]. For example, recent yoga surveys have found that yoga practitioners have higher rates of self-efficacy, lower rates of perceived stress, and are more inclined to maintain their health and wellbeing compared to the general population [3,20,22,23].

Despite this research and the growing accessibility of yoga classes within university settings, the practice continues to attract very narrow demographics within student populations, leaving out many students who could benefit greatly from the practice [7]. The most recent Yoga in America survey [24] revealed that 104.4 million Americans were interested in beginning a yoga practice but unsure of how to. Of this 104.4 million, 40% were under the age of 34 years. Furthermore, this survey reported that 44% of yoga practitioners begin practicing between the ages of 25-44 years. This healthful practice may most effectively be initiated and sustained if it is begun at a young age. Thus, it may be helpful to disseminate information about yoga on college and university campuses to broaden students’ perspectives about yoga and remove real and perceived barriers to practice.

Although yoga’s increasing presence in the media has coincided with increased use [20], it is unclear if media representations of the practice contribute to the narrow demographics of yoga practitioners. Current media portrayal of yoga is one-sided (favoring images of slender, non-diverse female practitioners) and often tied to materialism [25]. Within the yoga market, a 27 billion dollar industry in the United States alone, yoga practitioners spend the most money on instruction; however, revenue for clothing and equipment is growing twice as fast [24].

Research into materialism’s impact on self-concept has pointed to a number of negative consequences for individuals. For example, high materialism has been shown to decrease self-esteem, selfefficacy, and self-concept while increasing self-monitoring behaviors [26]. Research into social physique anxiety found that increases in this state anxiety correlated with decreases in self-efficacy about starting a physical exercise practice in a sample of undergraduate women [27]. As materialistic aspects of yoga and yoga products are becoming increasingly prevalent in the media, it is likely that media representations of yoga have an effect on who contemplates or engages in a yoga practice. Research has demonstrated that five minutes of exposure to images of “thin” women can have a negative impact on female viewers [28]. Additionally, undergraduate populations have been found to be more susceptible to the influence of media images on their self-concept compared to other adult populations [26].

However, the impact of materialistic images of yoga upon practitioners and those contemplating practice remains unclear. No research to date has explored the impact of commercial representations of the practice compared to educational representations of the practice. It is possible that the growing presence of yoga within the media has influenced its popularity and, in some cases, motivated many individuals, who would otherwise not practice, to explore yoga’s benefits. As yoga research aims to broaden the availability of this practice to a wider audience, it is imperative to examine how media representations of yoga practice may influence potential practitioners’ perceptions of what yoga is and who can practice.

To find effective ways of introducing students to a beneficial yoga practice, the current study sought to answer two important questions using a student sample drawn from a small private Northwestern University: 1) Can a brief 30-minute presentation about yoga as a comprehensive self-care practice affect students’ self-reported selfefficacy about engaging in a personal yoga practice; and does gender play a role? 2) Do portrayals of yoga in popular media compared to classic yoga texts affect students’ self-reported self-efficacy about yoga practice, body image, and self-compassion differently; and does gender play a role?



Participants for this study had to be 18 years or older, current students of Pacific University (undergraduate or graduate campuses) and fluent English speakers. A G*Power ANCOVA calculation yielded a total sample size of 46 (23 for each group) for the minimum of a small but significant effect using Cohen’s d=0.4. Recruitment ended once this minimum was met. Recruitment and administration of the study was held on the undergraduate and graduate campuses to optimize recruitment. All of the participants met the inclusion criteria for the study. A total of 81 participants took part in the study, however, gender and group assignment were not analyzed for 29 of the participants due to an administration error. Therefore, a total sample of 81 remained for analyses on the impact of the presentation and a total sample size of 52 remained for all other analyses. In this sample of 52, 34 participants self-identified as female, 13 identified as male, and five chose not to identify their gender (65% female, 25% male, 9.6% did not identify). Groups ranged in size from one to 29 participants. Due to the small sample size, ethnicity, race, and age were not collected to maintain participants’ anonymity. However, the university’s graduate and undergraduate ethnic, gender, and age distributions are as follows: The undergraduate campus identifies as 1% American Indian or Alaskan Native, 15% Asian/Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander, 1% Black or African American, 9% Hispanic/Latino, 57% White, 9% multiracial, and the average age is 20 years. The College of Health Professions is 72% female and 28% male, 64% White, 9% unknown, 1% multiracial, 1% non-resident of the United States, 5% Hispanic, 1% Pacific Islander, and 18% Asian, with an average age of 28 years.


Participants were asked to complete three rounds of measures (Table 1) to assess self-efficacy, self-compassion, and social physique anxiety. All measures were implemented to assess different areas of concern for practitioners interested in establishing their own yoga practice.