258: What Does Science Say About Yoga?

We all know about the benefits of yoga, but maybe we’ve wondered about the science behind it all. In this episode, Dr. Mary Flaherty shares the knowledge she has gained from reading thousands of research papers about the effectiveness of yoga, answering the question – does yoga work?

Mary is a psychologist, researcher, academic and yoga teacher, and the author of Does Yoga Work: Answers from Science. Mary has been teaching yoga for over 20 years, and practicing for many more. With almost 40 years of academic and research experience working in universities in Australia, Japan, U.K., Ireland, and Singapore, Mary’s parallel interests in yoga and science come together in this book which answers some of our most common questions in an easy-to-understand way.

Mary shares some of the salient pieces of information that have come up in her research, including what science has to say about inversions during menstruation, yoga and fertility, the measurable impact of yoga on individuals, societies, and communities, and more. Mary also elaborates on the importance of having a healthy skepticism and bringing an open and critical mind to any research or information shared about yoga.

This is a great interview for anyone who has ever wondered whether yoga has been backed up by scientific studies!

Key Takeaways:

[4:25] Shannon introduces her guest for this episode – Mary Flaherty.

[5:41] Shannon is giving away three copies of Mary’s book, Does Yoga Work?

[8:01] What is the work that Mary does and who does she do it for?

[10:10] What was Mary’s inspiration for writing the book Does Yoga Work?

[11:39] What is the overall answer to the question “does yoga work?”.

[16:52] Mary talks about her experience sifting through thousands of research papers and also reading through meta-studies.

“The way that the research was presented, it wasn’t just tested on psychological measures …subjective measures, but also physiological measures like at the molecular level, at a cellular level, we could see changes in hormones, all towards the positive.”

[18:13] Defining yoga is difficult, but the research seems to point to the fact that yoga that integrates different elements (like pranayama and meditation) is consistently superior to yoga that focuses solely on asana.

[20:38] Shannon pops in with a quick message from Allison of the Yoga Teacher Conf about staying up to date with professional development for yoga teachers.

[22:20] How can we develop a healthy skepticism?

“Scientific research shows that yoga is not just good for us as individuals, but at a broader level for society.”

[23:34] Mary highlights two interesting pieces of information she came across in her research relating to inversions during menstruation and yoga’s impact on fertility.

[26:59] It’s important to learn from different sources, and keep an open mind.

“We should question the science. We should question everything. Science is just one way to know the truth.”

[29:35] There are some aspects of yoga that science isn’t able to measure yet, such as the subtle body, spiritual experiences, and self-fulfillment.

“In terms of effectiveness from the scientific research, when pranayama and meditation are integrated with the asana practice, the effect was much much more superior. “

[34:37] Shannon gives a shout-out to Offering Tree’s amazing customer support team!

[36:15] Mary wrote her book to be really accessible and digestible for the average person.

[40:16] Mary shares more about her experience writing the book.

[46:23] Get Mary’s book and find out more about her work via her website.

[51:43] Leave a comment on the show notes page to stand a chance to win a copy of Mary’s book!

[53:26] If you would like to learn more from Mary, join the Pelvic Health Professionals membership site!


Note – since the recording of this episode, Mary’s website is no longer live but she can be contacted on Instagram at the link below.

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