Does Yoga Promote a Positive Body Image?

What’s This Research About?

Traditionally, yoga is a holistic philosophy that integrates the mind and the body; other principles include ethical behavior towards the self and others. Hatha yoga, the most widely practiced form  of yoga in the US, utilizes physical postures, movement, controlled breathing, and meditation to improve physiological and psychological well-being. Some of the psychological benefits that have been found during cross-sectional research include reduced negative body image, self objectification, eating disturbances, improved mindful body awareness, body responsiveness, body appreciation, and intuitive eating. Research also suggests practicing yoga motivates people to participate in physical activity for health rather than aesthetics.

Despite the positive benefits listed above, research within the last eight years suggests there may be negative thoughts and behaviors associated with yoga as well. A large sample of young adult women found participation in yoga and Pilates was associated with unhealthy weight control behaviors. Other reports describe a link between yoga participation and disordered eating behaviors.

Some forms of modern yoga have shifted from prioritizing spiritual and psychological aspects of the practice to emphasizing the physical and athletic side. A stereotypical definition of the physical representation of yoga practitioners is often defined by mainstream media outlets as having a “yoga body,” which resembles the toned, ultra-thin fitness ideal.

Westernized yoga magazines use models representing this aesthetic on their covers and in their advertisements. They are also often portrayed in physically demanding postures scantily clad. The visual representation of yoga in this way fuses physical appearance with body functionality. This type of media representation may also increase risks of disordered eating and body image disturbance.

This research aims to evaluate perceived body size, body shape, breast size, the level of yoga pose, body visibility, and skin exposure for the models on the cover of Yoga Journal between the years 1975-2015.

About The Author


Jenn Pilotti

TITLE: Downward dog becomes fit body, inc.: A content analysis of 40 years of female cover images of Yoga Journal



DATE: 2017

AUTHORS : Jennifer B. Webb, Erin R. Vinoski, Jan Warren-Findlow, & Marlene I. Burrell

Embodiment: To engage in the world through experiences felt in the body, through the body, and perceived through the body

Embodiment Model of Positive Body Image: A body image model that identifies embodying activities that enhance awareness of the experience of the body, connectedness with the body, and feelings of competency and empowerment*

Hatha yoga: The most widely practiced form of yoga in the US. A combination of asana, pranayama, and dhyana. A 2016 survey found 37 million adults practiced yoga in the last six months.Yoga was 8th top fitness trend in 2017 (according to ACSM’s survey of fitness professionals). A survey in 2016 found 1 in 5 adults practicing yoga were motivated primarily to promote weight loss.

Yoga body: A stereotypical representation of a female yoga practitioner

*Embodiment model of positive body image definition came from this research paper:

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By |2018-08-06T20:30:13-04:00August 7th, 2018|Yoga Methods, Yoga Poses|2 Comments

About the Author:

Jenn Pilotti has a BS in exercise physiology from UC Davis. After graduating in 2002, she was hired by the Beach and Tennis Club at Pebble Beach as a full time personal trainer. While there, she had the privilege of working with individuals of all ages, many of whom had aches and pains from a life well led. This piqued her interest in injuries, prevention, and pain. After years of undirected self study (and after leaving the security of a full time position to go out on her own), she enrolled in an online program through AT Still University, eventually acquiring a master's in human movement while working full time. After graduating, she continued to read research and write about its application to her work with clients. She fell in love with yoga in 2004, finally became 200 hour RYT in 2014 after years of workshops and self study (there seems to a theme), and continues to study somatic disciplines. She is DNS exercise trainer certified, FRCms, MovNat level I certified, GMB trainer certified, has taken PRI respiration, myokinematics, impingement and instability, and pelvis restoration, and has read an embarrassing number of books on movement, psychology, and wellness. She has an insatiable curiosity about what makes for a healthy person, physically and mentally, and she finds herself often asking why things work for some and not for others. She strongly believes in the power of knowledge and the power of movement. Learn more about Jenn Pilotti.

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