Yoga Research: How to Read and Absorb a Research Study

Yoga’s popularity has sparked a wave of new research on yoga’s benefits. But reading these studies can be a daunting task. In a recent article, I wrote about how to identify sound studies about yoga and meditation. In this article, I’ll share some tips on how to dissect and read a journal abstract or article and absorb what you see. We will also discuss some starting questions you might ask about a yoga research study and its limitations.

Here’s my own process of seeing a journal article: First, I read the abstract, looking for the research questions. What questions does it ask and answer? This is important: what were the critical materials, methods, and interventions (what they actually did) and the measuring techniques?

Honestly, I love to begin at the end by reading the authors’ conclusion and discussion, looking for (statistically) significant findings and forward-leading questions. Then I scan back through to see the study population and sample size. How many total participants started and stuck with it? Who were they (look at demographics like gender, age, race/ethnicity)?

For reliability, I look for a randomized controlled trial. And my very favorite, beyond a single study, is to find a systematic review of yoga research, which is a review of several studies and/or data sets in an area of research, such as yoga and its possible effects on back pain.

Yoga research article, parts of a typical journal article, understanding yoga research requirements

As a quick overview, let’s dissect the parts of a typical journal article.

  •     Journal: lists the publication title and date
  •     Title: states what the article is about.
  •     Authors: lists those who analyzed, synthesized, and wrote up data.
  •     The abstract summarizes the article.
  •     Introduction: establishes the research problem and hypothesis. May include a literature review for context.
  •     Materials and Methods: describes the procedures used in research.
  •     Results: reports the findings or outcomes of the procedures.
  •     Discussion: interprets results, explaining them, and comparing them to the results of other experiments.
  •     Conclusion: focuses the reader on what is important about the research and its contribution to the larger area of study.
  •     References: lists of sources used in the article.

Now with this basic map for reading research, you have guideposts and definitions to get started. Below, I’ve listed links and resources where you can begin to find yoga studies. You may want to practice looking at a few articles on the topics that interest you.

Where you can search online for yoga research:

US National Library of Medicine & National Institute of Health

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

IAYT Digital Resource Library— includes research summaries for IAYT members on topics that include yoga therapy for cancer, mental health, hypertension and heart disease, musculoskeletal conditions and pain, and other conditions.

Also, see Pamela E. Jeter’s articles on “Making Research Relevant to Your Yoga Therapy Practice,” in Yoga Therapy Today Summer 2016 and Winter 2017.

Reprinted with permission from and Rachel Lanzerotti of

Rachel Lanzerotti, writer, yoga teacher, yoga therapist, back pain expert

Rachel Lanzerotti (MSW, eRYT500, IAYT-Certified Yoga Therapist) is the Founder of Five Rivers Yoga Therapy and creator of The RE/ST Method for Pain Recovery™. She is a Body-Mind Yoga Therapist, meditation teacher, counselor, health educator, and specialist in back pain relief.

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