Practicing yoga can lessen anxiety, heighten concentration and improve motivation in as little as eight weeks, according to research presented in New Orleans at the 54th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Researchers sought to quantify benefits that go beyond the strength and flexibility typically associated with yoga in the western world.

ACSM members Traci A. Statler, Ph.D., and Amy Wheeler, Ph.D., tested 84 students during the second and eighth weeks of four, 10-week Hatha yoga classes at California State University San Bernardino. Most participants were female (93 percent); 45 percent were Hispanic, 35 percent Caucasian, seven percent African-American, and two percent Asian. The students averaged 24 years of age; most had at least three months of consistent yoga experience prior to the class.

Two weeks and again nine weeks into the class, participants completed three standard assessments to measure their concentration, motivation and anxiety level. The results were dramatic. "We were surprised by the degree of difference in just eight weeks of practice," Statler said. "We measured significant increases in all three areas. We've noted empirical evidence that yoga carries affective benefits, but now we've been able to objectively measure the results."

Statler, a sports psychology consultant, teamed with Wheeler, a yoga expert, to gauge the commonalities between sports and yoga. "Both require focus and confidence," Wheeler said. "While westerners tend to regard yoga primarily as a physical discipline, in the East it is pursued as a mindful discipline, helping people live their lives with clarity and a positive outlook."

Further research, said Statler, may address how best to translate yoga benefits into improvements in sports performance. "We'd like to study a broader sample, including more male students and more athletes," she said.

The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 20,000 international, national, and regional members are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.