An Exploratory Study of the Impact of Yoga Asana on Flexibility

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Wheeler, A. & Cliff, S.
California State University-San Bernardino
Department of Kinesiology

Paper to be presented at the 2008 Capherd Conference in Riverside, CA

Abstract 
The purpose of this study is to look at how practicing yoga asana impacts The sample consisted of 83 yoga asana students enrolled in yoga asana classes at a University in Southern California. Students participated in yoga asana classes for 10-weeks as part of the General Education (GE) Physical Education Curriculum. Participants recorded data on pre- and post-class flexibility using a sit-and-reach test, which tests the flexibility of the hamstring muscles and low back. The study showed that yoga asana corresponds to positive short-term changes in pre- to post-class measurements of flexibility

Purpose
The purpose of the study was to conduct a preliminary exploration of the impact of Yoga Asana in the style of T. Krishnamacharya and TKV Desikachar on flexibility in the low back and hamstrings. The purpose of the study was to determine if an asana practice that focused on Static Stretching or Slow Controlled Dynamic Stretching would increase the flexibility of the hamstrings and low back to a greater degree.

Introduction
Yoga asana in the style of T. Krishnamacharya can be performed in many ways depending on the needs of the yoga student. This is demonstrated by the fact that many of the many famous yogis were his students, yet the style of asana that each master yogi teaches appears to be different. For example, yoga asana in the Iyengar Tradition uses Static Stretching and holding of the poses as the basis for the practice for all ability levels, ages and functions. TKV Desikachar often uses a Slow Controlled Dynamic type of movement for yoga asana with most group classes because so many people in our modern society are stiff, yet he feels the practice needs to be gentle so that students do not become injured. The purpose of the study was to see if there is a difference in the resulting group yoga class flexibility averages in a Static Stretch approach to yoga asana versus the Slow Controlled Dynamic approach.

Hypotheses
The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of a yoga asana class taught to university students. The focus of the asana class was forward bends, creating flexibility of the low back and hamstrings

The hypotheses for the study were as follows:

1) Flexibility of the low-back and hamstrings will improve by participating in a yoga asana class focused on Slow Controlled Dynamic Stretching.

2) Flexibility of the low-back and hamstrings will improve by participating in a yoga asana class focused on a Static Stretching.

3) Flexibility of the low-back and hamstrings will be the same at the pre-test of each class. Both

4) Flexibility of the low-back and hamstrings will be significantly different at the post-test of each class: Flexibility will improve to a greater degree in the Slow Controlled Dynamic style class when compared to the Static Stretching Style.

5) Students will prefer the Slow Controlled Dynamic style class over the Static Stretching Style.

Methods

Participants
The sample consisted of 84 yoga asana students enrolled in Yoga asana classes at a University in Southern California. There were 75 females and 8 males that participated ranging from to 18-52 years (M=23.7±6.5years).

Procedures
Students participated in yoga asana classes for 10-weeks as part of the General Education (GE) Physical Education Curriculum. The classes met twice a week for 60-minutes each session. The students participated in standing poses, forward bends, backward bends, lateral bends and twists over the course of the 10-weeks. The style of yoga asana was Vinyasa Krama and Sakti style asana in the tradition of T. Krishnamacharya and TKV Desikachar.

Measures
The students were instructed to come into class, rest for a few minutes and then proceed with the pre-class data collection. Students were asked to remove their shoes and sit on the floor with their legs fully extended. Their feet were firmly against the back of the sit-and-reach measurement box. Students were asked to place one hand on the top of the other and to gradually reach forward three times, stretching as far as possible each time. The score was recorded to the nearest ½ inch of the final number reached. All three scored were recorded, but only the top score was used to run the statistics.

Students then participated in a 1-hour yoga asana class that included the following yoga asanas. They began in Mountain Pose, moved into a Standing Forward Bend, Then Triangle Pose, followed by a Triangle Twist. Next was Full-squat Pose, then Tree Pose and Child’s Pose. The lying down postures included Supine Cobbler Pose and Knees to Chest Pose. The seated postures followed and were Head to Knee Pose and Seated Full Forward Bend. The students then performed Child’s Pose again, followed by Bridge Pose and Knees to chest. At the end of each class, the students participated in a 10-minute guided relaxation and meditation period and then sat up and immediately collected the post-class data. During the first data collection the above mentioned poses were done in a Slow Controlled Dynamic Way. One week later the same postures were done in a Static fashion.

Analysis
The best of the pre-test and post-test scores of the three were circled for data input into the SPSSS 14.0 statistical package. Paired t-tests were run at a 95% confidence interval.

Results
1) Flexibility of the low-back and hamstrings did improve by participating in a yoga asana class focused on Slow Controlled Dynamic Stretching. The students had an average of 18.4 inches at the beginning and 19.4 inches at the end of the quarter. This was statistically significant as the t-value was, t( 82)= -6.3, p<.000.

2) Flexibility of the low-back and hamstrings did improve by participating in a yoga asana class focused on a Static Stretching. The students had an average of 18.9 inches at the start and 19.6 at the final day of measurement. This was statistically significant as the t-value was, t( 82)= -6.5, p<.000.

3) Flexibility of the low-back and hamstrings were not the same at the pre-test of each class. The Static Stretching Class showed greater flexibility at the beginning.

4) Flexibility of the low-back and hamstrings were significantly different at the post-test of each class. Flexibility improved to a greater degree in the Slow Controlled Dynamic style class (1 total inch improvement) when compared to the Static Stretching Style (.7 of an inch improvement). This held true even though the students began the Static Class with greater flexibility. This was statistically significant as the t-value was, t( 82)= -2.3, p<.05.

Students did prefer the Slow Controlled Dynamic style class over the Static Stretching Style. Fifty-seven percent preferred the Slow Controlled Dynamic Class and Thirty-Five percent preferred the Static Class. Eight percent liked both types equally.

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