But yoga can sometimes seem synonymous with athleisure and juice cleanses, and that can be perceived as having a sense of superiority. According to a new study, due to be published in the journal Psychological Science, taking yoga and meditation classes may actually inflate your ego.
The research touches on how Buddhism — where meditation and yoga originated from — has teachings that help your wellbeing by "quieting the ego" and curtailing self-enhancement. But the results showed yoga and meditation can actually increase self-enhancement or self-regard.
The team, from the University of Southampton, conducted two experiments. In the first, they recruited 93 yoga students and followed them over a period of 15 weeks, regularly asking them about their sense of self-enhancement. The were asked to compare themselves to the average student in the class, then to answer questions that assessed their narcissistic tendencies and self-esteem.
Those who were studied the hour after a yoga class had significantly higher self-enhancement than those who hadn't practised it in 24 hours.
In the second experiment, the researchers followed 162 meditators for four weeks. They were asked similar questions to the yoga students, like "In comparison to the average participant of this study, I am free from bias," and the results showed a similar pattern — that they had higher self-enhancement in the hour following meditation compared to those who hadn't meditated in a day.
"Evidently, neither yoga nor meditation quiet the ego; instead, they boost self-enhancement," the authors concluded in the paper.
But before you start feeling bad about your yoga and meditation routine, self-enhancement doesn't have to be seen as a negative. The results also showed that participants with increased self-enhancement also had increased well-being.
There's also the chance participants weren't practising yoga in the correct way to effectively let go of their ego and let go of their sense of self to achieve nirvana. The study didn't examine Buddhist teachings specifically, and this is arguably the difference between taking some yoga classes to make yourself feel healthier and practising yoga for the spiritual journey.
There were also some limitations to the study, for instance, the fact that yoga and meditation classes may be set up for the exact purpose to make people feel better about themselves. And due to the results being self-reported, people may sometimes exaggerate how good they feel after an exercise class like yoga.
Whatever the reason for the results, the study doesn't diminish the centuries of Buddhist teachings. And it doesn't discredit the positive feelings you get after a yoga class either. It may simply be a case of enjoying the fact you do get a positive effect from yoga and meditation, rather than focusing on why.
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