Preliminary Study of a Yoga Program to Catalyze Health Behavior Change

Project Dates: 2013-09-01 - 2014-08-31
Region: United States
Research Area: Complementary and Alternative Approaches to Medicine

Funding Agency: NIH (ALL)
NCCA Massachusetts General Hospital

PI: Park, Crystal

Status: Active

Project Summary:

Humans are creatures of habit - we tend to have stable behavior choices that change very slowly over time, if at all. Many factors form and support our choices, often reflexively and without conscious awareness, and strong, non-conscious emotional influences and homeostatic drives often prevail over reason. In this regard, stress, negative thought patterns, and maladaptive habits can subvert our attempts to adopt more healthy behaviors. Conversely positive factors such as self-mastery, emotion regulation, and positive self-regard can sustain health behaviors despite challenging circumstances. Mind-body practices such as yoga and meditation have been shown to be highly effective for reducing stress and enhancing wellness. Some evidence also suggests that these practices can promote positive changes in other health behaviors such as diet and exercise, even when changes in these behaviors are not explicitly prescribed. We hypothesize that these practices promote the development of mindfulness, self-compassion, and self-efficacy while decreasing stress, and that these changes in turn help mediate changes in health behaviors. Mindfulness is thought to increase awareness of unhealthy habits, self-compassion and self-efficacy provide new emotion regulation skills that help catalyze lasting transformations in behavior.
The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, MA has developed a standardized 16-week program which combines hatha yoga practice with experiential exercises focused on promoting skills to enhance wellness. Our preliminary data indicate that the program, termed the Yoga Program (YP), reduces stress and increases mindfulness, self-compassion, and self-efficacy. Preliminary qualitative data suggests that this program will also be effective for promoting positive changes in diet and exercise. Our current goals are to obtain preliminary estimates of effect sizes for positive changes in diet and exercise, to determine the optimal 'dose' of home yoga to achieve maximal positive changes in these behaviors, evaluate several hypothesized predictor variables, and assess various aspects of our experimental design that will enhance the design and execution of follow-up studies. The results of this project will provide the preliminary data needed to justify and design a large randomized clinical trial comparing the effects and mechanisms of the YP to an exercise-based healthy living control program.
Aim 1: Evaluate the impact of the Yoga Program on changes in diet, exercise, and body mass index (BMI) at program mid-point (Week 8) and end (Week 16), as well as at two follow-up time-points (Weeks 24 and 32). Determine preliminary estimates of effect sizes and which ‘dose’ is most effective for engendering change in health behaviors.
Aim 2: Evaluate hypothesized mechanistic variables: 1) Confirm changes in mindfulness, self-compassion, self-efficacy, and stress reduction and obtain preliminary estimates of effect sizes. 2) Determine how diet, exercise and BMI are impacted by these variables, as well as by two predicted moderators (stages of change and eating behavior style).
Aim 3: Assess recruitment strategies, acceptability and appropriateness of testing materials, and instructor adherence to the YP teaching manual.