The Role of Mindfulness in Yoga
With the help of the yoga instructors at the University of Idaho, we investigated the role that mindfulness during the practice of yoga may play in predicting positive psychological outcomes. These outcomes included body image variables and different reasons for exercise. Participants completed a survey assessing all outcome variables at the beginning and end of an 8-week yoga course at the University. In addition, yoga participants were also given a survey immediately following a class at the beginning and end of the eight weeks to gauge how mindful they were during their practice and how much they were thinking about their appearance. Results showed positive changes over time in body image variables, health and fitness reasons for exercise, and mindfulness. We also found that mindfulness during yoga was linked to the improvement in body image and internal reasons for exercise over time. You can find more information about this project in our Research Blog.
Assessing State Mindfulness in Children and Adolescents
Extending the laboratory’s research and development of the State Mindfulness Scale for Physical Activity (SMS-PA), this project examines the measurement of state mindfulness in physical activity contexts for children. The State Mindfulness Scale for Physical Activity is a revision of The State Mindfulness Scale (Tanay & Bernstein, 2013) and measures state attention and awareness to the mental and physical aspects of a physical activity experience. Two studies address this issue. First, children (N = 15) ages 8-14 participated in a brief yoga session followed by an interview. The interview assessed comprehension of the SMS-PA items (developed for adults) and utilized a think aloud protocol to assess the process of responding to each item. Additionally, we assessed items that were modified to be more developmentally appropriate for children. In our second study, we collected quantitative data assessing state mindfulness and motivational and affective constructs in a sample of middle school students. Students either received the original SMS-PA or the child modified version of the SMS-PA. Collectively, we will use the empirical evidence from these studies for future recommendations on how and for what age groups state mindfulness can be assessed.
Positive Youth Development
Testing the Effects of a High School Physical Education Yoga Curriculum
We developed and implemented a 12-week yoga curriculum in a high school physical education class. A certified yoga instructor led the class two times per week intentionally fostering mindfulness, self-compassion, and a growth mindset. A traditional physical education class served as a comparison class. We assessed state mindfulness and state engagement weekly to examine how the yoga experience impacts changes in body image, physical self-perceptions and physical activity motivation, fitness outcomes, stress, self-compassion, trait mindfulness and executive functioning. All outcome variables were assessed with survey instruments at the beginning, mid-point and end of the 12 weeks. In addition, all classes were video-recorded and will be content-analyzed to examine the degree to which the curriculum was implemented. Finally, students participated in focus group interviews at the conclusion of the 12 weeks and provided in-depth responses to complement the quantitative assessments. We hope to use the results of this study to inform the development of future yoga-based programming or mindfulness interventions.
Body Image Workshops
Body image is an issue of concern for sorority women. We developed an hour long Acceptance and Commitment Therapy-based workshop for sororities to help identify group values and committed action that align with those values. We explore sources of maladaptive body image in the sorority context and use an activity-based approach to involve the participants in the process of increasing mindfulness and clarifying what is important and how to stay on track with a positive and supportive context that allows all women to feel comfortable in their own bodies. We have implemented this workshop with various groups, although it was developed for the sorority context. Please contact the lab directors if you are interested in learning more about the workshop or would like to schedule a workshop.
Self Compassion and Psychological Flexibity Associations with Body-Related Emotions
Body conscious emotions play a role in the regulation of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Tracy & Robins, 2007), it is therefore important to explore resilience factors that may help explain how we manage or experience body-related emotions of guilt, shame, anxiety, and pride. Two resilience factors were explored in the current study. The first is self-compassion which reflects an adaptive way of interacting with oneself that involves being kind and understanding in times of personal failings rather than judgmental and critical (see Neff, 2003). Core elements of being compassionate include noticing suffering, responding with understanding and kindness, and placing that suffering as part of the human experience. The second resilience factor, psychological flexibility, represents nonjudgmental and adaptive interactions one has with their own thoughts and emotions and context (Hayes et al., 1999; Hayes et al., 2006). Psychological flexibility is considered a core component of positive psychological functioning based on the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy perspective (Hayes et al., 2006). A young adult sample (N = 432) participated in an online survey assessing these constructs. We found that self-compassion and psychological flexibility associated with body-related emotions, supporting adaptive emotional experiences with greater self-compassion and psychological flexibility.
Focus Groups Exploring Adolescent Self-Compassion
Self-compassion reflects an adaptive way of interacting with oneself that involves being kind and understanding in times of personal failings rather than judgmental and critical (see Neff, 2003). Core elements of being compassionate include noticing suffering, responding with understanding and kindness, and placing that suffering as part of the human experience. As a relatively new construct in Western research, very little research has explored self-compassion in adolescence. We therefore conducted three focus groups of high school students to study the adolescent perspective on self-compassion. We had two main goals. The first goal was to explore whether the self-compassion scale, developed with adult samples, resonated with an adolescent sample. The second goal was to identify examples of how each element of self-compassion played out in the lives of adolescents.
Longitudinal Study of Yoga Activity Classes
In this project, we examined how body image, motivation variables, self-compassion and mindfulness change over the course of a 16-week semester yoga course. Among the key findings of this project is the role of mindfulness in supporting growth in positive body image and self-determined physical activity motivation during yoga participation.
Cox, A.E. & McMahon, A.K. (2019). Exploring changes in mindfulness and body appreciation during yoga participation. Body Image, 29, 118-121. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2019.03.003
Cox, A. E., Ullrich-French, S., Tylka, T., & McMahon, A. (2019). The roles of self-compassion, body surveillance, and body appreciation in predicting intrinsic motivation for physical activity: Cross-sectional associations and prospective changes within a yoga context. Body Image, 29, 110-117. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2019.03.002
Cox, A.E., Ullrich-French, S., & Austin, B. (2020). Testing the role of trait and state mindfulness in facilitating autonomous physical activity motivation. Mindfulness, 11, 1018-1027.
Mindfulness Manipulation during Treadmill Walking
In these related projects, we examined psychological responses to and experiences during treadmill walking in women who are not meeting physical activity guidelines. Negative affective responses, such as displeasure experienced during moderate-vigorous exercise can be a potential deterrent to engaging in habitual physical activity. Mindfulness may be one option that can enhance affective responses during physical activity. A 10-minute audio mindfulness track was created for participants with low intrinsic motivation for exercise to listen to while walking on the treadmill. The mindfulness script was intended to promote nonjudgmental acceptance of one’s physical sensations while walking on the treadmill. Findings suggested that listening to the mindfulness audio track supported positive affective responses. Expanding on these results, we conducted a second study and examined differences in psychological responses by comparing associative and dissociative attentional strategies while walking on the treadmill. Listening to music is often used as a method to counteract negative affective responses while exercising. Although we found no differences in affective responses between listening to the mindfulness audio track or listening to music, results suggest that the use of mindfulness as an associative attentional strategy during exercise may support positive affective responses that are similar in magnitude to music. Future studies will include investigating other dissociative strategies, such as listening to podcasts, and examining the effects of these strategies at different levels of exercise intensity.
Cox, A.E., Ullrich-French, S., Hargreaves, E., & McMahon, A. (2020). The effects of mindfulness and music on affective responses to self-paced treadmill walking. Sport, Exercise, & Performance, Psychology, 9, 571-584. https://doi.org/10.1037/spy0000192
Cox, A.E., Roberts, M.A., Cates, H.L., & McMahon, A.K. (2018). Mindfulness and affective responses to treadmill walking in individuals with low intrinsic motivation to exercise. International Journal of Exercise Science, 11, 609-624. https://search.proquest.com/?accountid=14902
Yoga Instruction Manipulation
Practicing yoga can promote positive embodiment and experiences of positive core affect. However, there is a need to identify the specific instructional strategies that will more consistently support these adaptive outcomes. In this project, we investigated the effect of teaching yoga using mindfulness-based instruction compared to appearance-based and neutral instruction on embodiment. Results showed that emphasizing changes to one’s appearance in yoga instruction may place individuals at risk for less positive affect and less positive experiences of embodiment compared to mindfulness-based or even neutral yoga instruction.
Cox, A.E., Ullrich-French, S., Tylka, T., Cook-Cottone, C., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2020). Examining the effects of mindfulness based yoga instruction on positive embodiment and affective responses. Journal of Eating Disorders, 28, 458-475.
Measurement of Mindfulness
The State Mindfulness Scale for Physical Activity (SMS-PA) was designed to include both the objects of mindfulness (i.e., physical and mental events) and the qualities of mindfulness (e.g., attention). The scale is based on Tanay and Berstein’s (2013) State Mindfulness Scale and is intended to assess the specific experience of mindfulness and is ideally completed immediately following participation in a physical activity. Evidence supports a bi-factor structure of the measure in which both a general state mindfulness factor and two specific factors (mind and body) are supported. Extending the laboratory’s research and development of the SMS-PA, another project examined the measurement of state mindfulness in physical activity contexts for children. Children (N = 15) ages 8-14 participated in a brief yoga session followed by an interview. The interview assessed comprehension of the SMS-PA items (developed for adults) and utilized a think aloud protocol to assess the process of responding to each item. Additionally, we assessed items that were modified to be more developmentally appropriate for children. In our second study, we collected quantitative data assessing state mindfulness and motivational and affective constructs in a sample of middle school students. Students either received the original SMS-PA or the child modified version of the SMS-PA. We also examined the validity of a Spanish adaption of the SMS-PA. Spanish youths (N = 502) completed a cross-sectional survey of state mindfulness during physical activity and physical activity motivation regulations based on self-determination theory. A high-order model fit the data well and internal consistency reliability was good for the general scale and both sub-scales. Overall, initial validity evidence was promising for the use of the adapted measure to be used by Spanish youth.
As we learn more about mindfulness in physical activity, we believe that the SMS-PA measure could be expanded to be more aligned with the most common conceptualization defining mindfulness and the recent Monitoring and Acceptance Theory. In order to most fully represent mindfulness, both monitoring or awareness, as well as acceptance and nonjudgment should be represented. Review of the SMS-PA suggests that there is room for growth in the areas of acceptance and non-judgment. Therefore, we have added items to capture these core elements of mindfulness and have initial evidence for the SMS-PA2. Our early data suggest that four subscales could be used to capture awareness of the mind, awareness of the body, acceptance of the mind, and acceptance of the body. As with the original measure, a total score also is appropriate for use. Unlike our earlier work, we do not fully support a bi-factor structure, instead finding our initial data fit a higher order structure with four factors. Further data is needed to establish the factor structure. The score use has shown associations with intrinsic motivation, affect, and body image and the new acceptance scales have demonstrated significant added explained variance to these relevant constructs. Stay tuned for further data exploring the SMS-PA2. Ultimately, we hope this instrument can be used to better understand mindful movement and the mechanisms involved in mindfulness interventions.
Cox, A., Ullrich-French, S., & French, B. (2016). Validity evidence for state mindfulness scale scores in a physical activity context. Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science, 20, 38-49. https://doi.org/10.1080/1091367X.2015.1089404
Ullrich-French, S., Cox, A.E., Cole, A.N., Cooper, B.R., & Gotch, C. (2017). Initial validity evidence for the state mindfulness scale for physical activity with youth. Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science, 21, 177-189. https://doi.org/10.1080/1091367X.2017.1321543
Ullrich-French, S., González Hernández, J., & Hildago Montesinos, M.D. (2017). Validity evidence for the adaptation of the state mindfulness scale for physical activity (SMS-PA) in Spanish youth. Psicothema, 29, 119-125. https://doi.org/10.7334/psicothema2016.204
Ullrich-French, S., Cox, A., & Huang, C. (submitted). State Mindfulness Scale for Physical Activity 2: Initial validity evidence for expanding the assessment of monitoring and acceptance. Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science.
Yoga and Embodiment Work
We examined changes in state and trait mindfulness and body appreciation as well as the relationship between change in trait mindfulness and change in body appreciation across 16 weeks of yoga participation. Participants (N = 376) completed several measures of trait mindfulness, state mindfulness of the body, and body appreciation throughout the 16-week yoga course. The full structural model showed that the rate of change in trait mindfulness associated positively with the rate of change in body appreciation. These findings highlight the role that mindfulness may play in supporting growth in positive body image during yoga participation. We also conducted a qualitative project exploring how yoga impacts body-related thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and attitudes, well-being, and self-care behaviors in a sample of middle-aged women who regularly engage in yoga in their community. The sample included 22 women, 10 of whom self-identified as beginners and 12 of whom self-identified as experienced in yoga. Participants expressed a desire for a supportive, accepting instructor and they emphasized that yoga allowed them to be fully present which helped them feel relaxed. Yoga practice was linked with positive eating, sleeping, and relaxation behaviors. Participants also felt yoga contributed to improved body confidence despite continued critical appraisals of their bodies. This project offers unique insight about how yoga instructors, other participants, and the physical environment can best support positive yoga experiences for middle-aged women. Please refer below for more information about these projects.
Cox, A.E. & Tylka, T. (2020). A conceptual model describing mechanisms for how yoga practice may support positive embodiment. Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 28, 376-399. https://doi.org/10.1080/10640266.2020.1740911
Cox, A.E. & McMahon, A.K. (2019). Exploring changes in mindfulness and body appreciation during yoga participation. Body Image, 29, 118121.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2019.03.003
Cox, A. E., Brunet, J., McMahon, A. K., & Price, J. (Under Review). A qualitative study exploring middle-aged women’s experiences with yoga.
Self-Compassion Conceptual Exploration
Although self-compassion is conceptualized and measured as a multi-dimensional construct, we know little about what patterns or profiles of the six dimensions exist or how they relate to conceptually relevant outcomes. In this project, we explored profiles of the self-compassion dimensions using latent profile analysis. Three healthy, independent samples completed assessments of self-compassion and psychological inflexibility (sample 1 N = 419), perceived stress (sample 2 N = 384), or perceived stress, anxiety, and depression (sample 3 N = 509). Across all samples, three profiles were clearly replicated: self-compassionate, uncompassionate, and average scores across self-compassion dimensions. Profile differences in composite self-compassion revealed different underlying dimensional patterns that resulted in similar composite self-compassion scores.
Something we have noticed in our work on self-compassion has been that the measurement is at a trait or generalized level. In our latent profile work, we suspect that some of the profiles could be largely reflecting this trait level in which across contexts someone might sometimes respond with self-compassion and in other times respond to the self with coldness. Little research has tried to contextualize self-compassion to certain domains or to assess it as situation specific. We have begun to explore both an assessed of self-compassion with the context of body image as well as modifying the measure of self-compassion most commonly used to explore the context and situational specific nature of self-compassion.
Ullrich-French, S., & Cox, A.E. (2020). Latent profiles highlight the multi-dimensional complexity of self-compassion. Mindfulness, 11, 1483-1499.
Ullrich-French, S., & Cox, A.E. (in progress). Exploring the assessment of self-compassion in the context of body image.
Psychology of Physical Activity Laboratory
Smith Gym 213-A
Department of Kinesiology and Educational Psychology
Washington State University
Pullman, WA 99164