Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 23, Issue 10, pp 1653–1658 | Cite as

Characteristics of Yoga Users: Results of a National Survey

  • Gurjeet S. Birdee
  • Anna T. Legedza
  • Robert B. Saper
  • Suzanne M. Bertisch
  • David M. Eisenberg
  • Russell S. Phillips
Original Article



There are limited data on the characteristics of yoga users in the U.S.


To characterize yoga users, medical reasons for use, perceptions of helpfulness, and disclosure of use to medical professionals.


Utilizing cross-sectional survey data from the 2002 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) Alternative Medicine Supplement (n = 31044), we examined correlates of yoga use for health. The estimated prevalence from 2002 NHIS of yoga for health was 5.1% corresponding to over 10 million adults.


In 2002, yoga users were predominately Caucasian (85%) and female (76%) with a mean age of 39.5 years. Compared to non-yoga users, yoga users were more likely female (OR 3.76, 95% CI 3.11–4.33); less likely black than white (OR 0.65, 95% CI 0.53–0.80); tended to be younger; and more likely college educated (OR 2.70, 95% CI 2.37–3.08). Musculoskeletal conditions (OR 1.61, 95% CI 1.42–1.83), mental health conditions (OR 1.43, 95% CI 1.22–1.67), severe sprains in the last 12 months (OR 1.49, 95% CI 1.22–1.81), and asthma (OR 1.27, 95% CI 1.05–1.54) were independently associated with higher yoga use, while hypertension (OR 0.78, 95% CI 0.64–0.95) and chronic obstructive lung disease (OR 0.69, 95% CI 0.48–1.00) were associated with lower use. Yoga was most commonly used to treat musculoskeletal or mental health conditions, and most users reported yoga to be helpful for these conditions. A majority of yoga users (61%) felt yoga was important in maintaining health, though only 25% disclosed yoga practice to their medical professional.


We found that yoga users are more likely to be white, female, young and college educated. Yoga users report benefit for musculoskeletal conditions and mental health, indicating that further research on the efficacy of yoga for the treatment and/or prevention of these conditions is warranted.


yoga complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) behavioral medicine 



Dr. Birdee is supported by an Institutional National Research Service Award (T32AT00051–06) from National Institutes of Health. Dr. Russell Phillips is supported by a Mid-Career Investigator Award from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health (K24-AT000589). A portion of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine, Toronto, Canada, April, 2007. The contents of this manuscript are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, or the National Institutes of Health. We thank Roger Davis ScD for review of an earlier version of the manuscript.

Conflict of Interest

None disclosed.


  1. 1.
    Monier-Williams MA. Sanskrit English Dictionary 2005 Deluxe Edition: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2005; 1333.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Saper RB, Eisenberg DM, Davis RB, et al. Prevalence and patterns of adult yoga use in the United States: results of a national survey. Alt Ther Health Med. 2004;10:44–9.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Barnes PM, Powell-Griner E, McFann K, et al. Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults: United States, 2002. Advance Data. 2004;343:1–19.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Bertisch SM, Wee CC, McCarthy EP. Use of Complementary and Alternative Therapies by Overweight and Obese Adults. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008;16(7):1610–5.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Corliss R. The power of yoga. Time. 2001;157:54–63.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Clay CC, Lloyd LK, Walker JL, et al. The metabolic cost of hatha yoga. J Strength Cond Res. 2005;19:604–10.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Hagins M, Moore W, Rundle A. Does practicing hatha yoga satisfy recommendations for intensity of physical activity which improves and maintains health and cardiovascular fitness? BMC Complement Altern Med. 2007;7:40.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Khalsa SBS. Yoga as a therapeutic intervention: A bibliometric analysis of published research studies. Ind J Physiol Pharmacol. 2004;48:269–85.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Williams KA, Petronis J, Smith D, et al. Effect of Iyengar yoga therapy for chronic low back pain. Pain. 2005;115:107–17.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC, Erro J, et al. Comparing yoga, exercise, and a self-care book for chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2005;143:849.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Jacobs BP, Mehling W, Goldberg H, et al. Feasibility of conducting a clinical trial on hatha yoga for chronic low back pain: Methodological lessons. Alt Ther Health Med. 2004;10:80–3.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Galantino ML, Bzdewka TM, Eissler-Russo JL, et al. The impact of modified Hatha yoga on chronic low back pain: a pilot study. Alt Ther Health Med. 2004;10:56–9.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Chou R, Qaseem A, Snow V, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain: a joint clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147:478–91.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Garfinkel MS, Schumacher HR Jr, Husain A, et al. Evaluation of a yoga based regimen for treatment of osteoarthritis of the hands. J Rheumatol. 1994;21:2341–3.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Kolasinski SL, Garfinkel M, Tsai AG, et al. Iyengar yoga for treating symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knees: a pilot study. J Altern Complement Med. 2005;11:689–93.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Dash M, Telles S. Improvement in hand grip strength in normal volunteers and rheumatoid arthritis patients following yoga training. Ind J Physiol Pharmacol. 2001;45:355–60.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Greendale GA, McDivit A, Carpenter A, et al. Yoga for women with hyperkyphosis: results of a pilot study. Am J Pub Health. 2002;92:1611–4.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Garfinkel MS, Singhal A, Katz WA, et al. Yoga-based intervention for carpal tunnel syndrome: A randomized trial. J Am Med Assoc. 1998;280:1601–3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Krishnamurthy MN, Telles S. Assessing depression following two ancient Indian interventions: effects of yoga and ayurveda on older adults in a residential home. J Gerontol Nurs. 2007;33:17–23.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Pilkington K, Kirkwood G, Rampes H, et al. Yoga for depression: the research evidence. J Affect Disord. 2005;89:13–24.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Sharma VK, Das S, Mondal S, et al. Effect of Sahaj Yoga on depressive disorders. Ind J Physiol Pharmacol. 2005;49:462–8.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Sharma VK, Das S, Mondal S, et al. Effect of Sahaj Yoga on neuro-cognitive functions in patients suffering from major depression. Ind J Physiol Pharmacol. 2006;50:375–83.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Kirkwood G, Rampes H, Tuffrey V, et al. Yoga for anxiety: a systematic review of the research evidence. Brit J Sports Med. 2005;39:884–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Cooper S, Oborne J, Newton S, et al. Effect of two breathing exercises (Buteyko and pranayama) in asthma: a randomised controlled trial. Thorax. 2003;58:674–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Holloway E, Ram FS. Breathing exercises for asthma. Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online: Update Software) 2004: CD001277.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Manocha R, Marks GB, Kenchington P, et al. Sahaja yoga in the management of moderate to severe asthma: a randomised controlled trial. Thorax. 2002;57:110–5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Nagarathna R, Nagendra HR. Yoga for bronchial asthma: a controlled study. Brit Med J Clin Res Ed. 1985;291:1077–9.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Sabina AB, Williams AL, Wall HK, et al. Yoga intervention for adults with mild-to-moderate asthma: a pilot study. Ann Allergy, Asthma Immunol. 2005;94:543–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Singh V, Wisniewski A, Britton J, et al. Effect of yoga breathing exercises (pranayama) on airway reactivity in subjects with asthma. Lancet. 1990;335:1381–3.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Vedanthan PK, Murthy KC, Duvall K, et al. Clinical trial of yoga techniques in university students with asthma: A controlled study. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1992;89:344.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Behera D. Yoga therapy in chronic bronchitis. J Assoc Phys Ind. 1998;46:207–8.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Tandon MK. Adjunct treatment with yoga in chronic severe airways obstruction. Thorax. 1978;33:514–7.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Vedanthan PK. Yoga breathing techniques (YBT) in COPD: a preliminary study. Am J Resp Crit Care Med. 1999;159:A818.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Khalsa SB. Yoga as a therapeutic intervention: a bibliometric analysis of published research studies. Ind J Physiol Pharmacol. 2004;48:269–85.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Innes KE, Bourguignon C, Taylor AG. Risk indices associated with the insulin resistance syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and possible protection with yoga: a systematic review. J Am Board Fam Pract. 2005;18:491–519.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Jayasinghe SR. Yoga in cardiac health (a review). Eur J Cardiov Prev Rehab. 2004;11:369–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Broota A, Varma R, Singh A. Role of relaxation in hypertension. J Ind Acad Appl Psychol. 1995;21:29–36.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Fields JZ, Walton KG, Schneider RH, et al. Effect of a multimodality natural medicine program on carotid atherosclerosis in older subjects: a pilot trial of Maharishi Vedic Medicine. Am J Cardiol. 2002;89:952–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Patel C. 12-month follow up of yoga and bio feedback in the management of hypertension. Lancet. 1975;I:62–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Patel C. Meditation in general practice. BrMed J (Clin Res Ed). 1981;282:528–9.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Patel C, Marmot MG, Terry DJ, et al. Trial of relaxation in reducing coronary risk: four year follow up. Brit Med J Clin Res Edn. 1985;290:1103–6.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Patel C, Marmot M. Can general practitioners use training in relaxation and management of stress to reduce mild hypertension? Brit Med J Clin Res Edn. 1988;296:21–4.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Murugesan R, Govindarajulu N, Bera TK. Effect of selected yogic practices on the management of hypertension. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2000;44:207–10.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    van Montfrans GA, Karemaker JM, Wieling W, et al. Relaxation therapy and continuous ambulatory blood pressure in mild hypertension: a controlled study. Brit Med J. 1990;300:1368–72.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Bertschinger DR, Mendrinos E, Dosso A. Yoga can be dangerous–glaucomatous visual field defect worsening due to postural yoga. Br J Ophthalmol. 2007;91:1413–4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Bianchi G, Cavenago C, Marchese M. Can the practice of yoga be dangerous? Considerations over a case of epiphyseal separation of the distal tibia in a teenager. J Orthopaed Traumatol. 2004;5:188–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Chusid J. Yoga foot drop. J Am Med Assoc. 1971;217:827–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Cohen JA, Char DH, Norman D. Bilateral orbital varices associated with habitual bending. Arch Ophthalmol. 1995;113:1360–2.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Corrigan GE. Fatal air embolism after Yoga breathing exercises. J Am Med Assoc. 1969;210:1923.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Fong KY, Cheung RT, Yu YL, et al. Basilar artery occlusion following yoga exercise: a case report. Clin Exp Neurol. 1993;30:104–9.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Hanus SH, Homer TD, Harter DH. Vertebral artery occlusion complicating yoga exercises. Arch Neurol. 1977;34:574–5.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Walker M, Meekins G, Hu SC. Yoga neuropathy. A snoozer. Neurologist. 2005;11:176–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Robinson A, McGrail MR. Disclosure of CAM use to medical practitioners: a review of qualitative and quantitative studies. Complement Ther Med. 2004;12:90–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Eisenberg DM, Davis RB, Ettner SL, et al. Trends in alternative medicine use in the United States, 1990–1997: results of a follow-up national survey. J Am Med Assoc. 1998;280:1569–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. 55.
    Eisenberg DM, Kessler RC, Foster C, et al. Unconventional medicine in the United States. Prevalence, costs, and patterns of use. N Engl J Med. 1993;328:246–52.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    Eisenberg DM, Kessler RC, Van Rompay MI, et al. Perceptions about complementary therapies relative to conventional therapies among adults who use both: results from a national survey. Ann Intern Med. 2001;135:344–51.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Hoyez AC. The ‘world of yoga’: the production and reproduction of therapeutic landscapes. Soc Sci Med. 2007;65:112–24.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gurjeet S. Birdee
    • 1
    • 2
  • Anna T. Legedza
    • 4
  • Robert B. Saper
    • 3
  • Suzanne M. Bertisch
    • 1
    • 2
  • David M. Eisenberg
    • 1
  • Russell S. Phillips
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical TherapiesHarvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  2. 2.Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, Department of MedicineBeth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Family Medicine, Boston Medical CenterBoston University School of MedicineBostonUSA
  4. 4.Vertex PharmaceuticalsCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations