Practicing yoga can improve negative self-attitude about one’s physical appearance, according to a new study in the journal Sex Roles that examined college-aged women.

Previous studies have found that women who are dissatisfied with their body are at increased risk of developing eating disorders and are more likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem.

Researchers from the University of Florida were interested in studying yoga because body-image dissatisfaction is rampant among college-age women, yet therapeutic interventions to address the problem are not widely available.

In the study, 75 women between the ages of 18–30 were from a large southeastern university. The participants were randomly assigned to twice weekly yoga classes for 12 weeks or to a control condition.

During the 60-minute yoga classes, the participants practiced breathing techniques, meditation, and active poses for beginner students in the Vinyasa and Ashtanga styles.

Women tended to see reductions in body-image dissatisfaction after completing the 12 weeks of yoga. These participants tended to evaluate their appearance more positively, become more satisfied with specific body areas, and decrease the amount of time and energy spent focused on their appearance.

“Current gold standard treatments for body-image dissatisfaction are not available on most college campuses because they require well-trained group leaders, as well as administrative and financial resources to organize session materials,” the researchers said.

“In contrast, yoga is a widely available way for young women to get physical activity and improve body-image dissatisfaction without the barriers and stigma associated with traditional mental health treatment.”

The study — like all research — includes some limitations. The researchers failed to find evidence that yoga influenced mindfulness, depressive symptomatology or disordered eating. Future research should also compare the effectiveness of yoga to other forms of therapy, the authors of the study said.

The study, “Does Yoga Help College-Aged Women with Body-Image Dissatisfaction Feel Better About Their Bodies?“, was authored by Aviva H. Ariel-Donges, Eliza L. Gordon, Viviana Bauman, and Michael G. Perri.