Practice Of Yoga Linked To Decline In Non-Suicidal Self-Harm

June 19, 2023; Unhurry Expert Research Team

June 21 is International Yoga Day. All of this week, we are celebrating the positive impact of yoga on mental health. All our research articles and features will bring you these scientific insights. 

Yoga is linked to better body image, self-compassion, and mindfulness, all of which are linked to a decline in non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI).

A study published in the Body Image journal evaluated the relationship between yoga and NSSI frequency, and if the relationship would be mediated by mindfulness, self-compassion, and/or body appreciation.

What is Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI)?

NSSI is the term used to describe the purposeless, purposeful destruction of one’s own body tissue without suicidal intent. Most people who self-injure have employed a variety of techniques, with cutting, burning, scratching, and hammering or beating being common examples.

Youth and young adults frequently engage in maladaptive, body-focused conduct known as non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI).

How NSSI is linked with body image?

Positive self-perceptions are crucial for guarding against activities that harm the body, and as a result, they should be linked to decreased NSSI participation. A person’s body image is one component of self-perception that is very important during adolescence and early adulthood.

Numerous studies of young adults have discovered that people who report having a negative body image are more likely to engage in NSSI, supporting the idea that having a bad body image increases the risk for NSSI.

The goal of this study by Jennifer J. Muehlenkamp and Emily M. Wagner of the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, Department of Psychology, United States of America, was to determine whether practicing yoga has a negative relationship with NSSI, and if so, what mechanisms might contribute to that association.

An anonymous online survey was sent to university students as part of this study to gauge their levels of yoga practice, NSSI, mindfulness, self-compassion, and body appreciation. The association between yoga and NSSI was also significantly mediated by body appreciation.

Yoga has the potential to build positive body-focused experiences

Studies show that doing yoga can help people respect, connect with, and appreciate their bodies through enhanced awareness of bodily cues, increased self-acceptance, and attentive, non-judgmental observation. These satisfying body-focused activities may help people feel better about their bodies and may even lower their likelihood of developing NSSI.

The assumption that yoga promotes good body image by encouraging the development of positive embodiment is supported by recent theoretical models of yoga. Positive embodiment is a complex concept that includes (a) a connection to and comfort with the body; (b) experiences of power, competence, and agency through the body; (c) sensitivity to one’s internal states and bodily needs; (d) nurturing responses to one’s bodily needs; and (e) a resistance to an objectifying, external perspective on the body. Additionally, through several techniques including mindfulness, self-compassion, and body appreciation, yoga encourages embodiment and subsequently a good body image.

Yoga programs are an intervention strategy for eating disorders

Current NSSI theoretical models indicate that recognizing the risk for NSSI likely depends heavily on body image. Additionally, yoga is said to promote the development of a good body image through mechanisms of mindfulness, self-compassion, and body appreciation, according to conceptual models of positive embodiment.

According to certain research, yoga practices that emphasize gratitude for one’s body have a considerable positive impact on one’s body appreciation, connectivity, and contentment as well as their ability to improve body image through mediating effects of embodiment.

Yoga programs are also used as intervention tactics for eating disorders to enhance embodiment and foster a positive body image, which reduces the symptoms of disordered eating.

Yoga strengthens mindfulness and self-compassion

According to yoga embodiment theories, Yoga’s capacity to enhance mindfulness and foster self-compassion may be linked to decreased NSSI. An open, nonjudgmental, intentional awareness of and focus on what is happening in the present moment is what is meant by the term “mindfulness.” Self-compassion is a multifaceted concept that includes (a) self-kindness (a supportive, gentle, and understanding attitude towards oneself); (b) common humanity (recognizing that everyone experiences flaws and suffering); and (c) mindfulness (balanced awareness of unfavourable thoughts and emotions).

Association between Yoga Participation and NSSI

Through its beneficial associations with body appreciation and self-compassion, yoga practice is linked to decreased NSSI behaviour. Yoga therapies that promote positive body image, like yoga, maybe novel approaches for therapists to investigate because it indicates that body appreciation is a key mechanism behind the link between yoga involvement and NSSI behaviour.

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