Research findings graduate's reward

Yoga exponent Lesley Ward prepares to graduate. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Yoga exponent Lesley Ward prepares to graduate. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Yoga practitioner Lesley Ward is ''very excited'' to be graduating from the University of Otago this week, but is equally delighted with the health benefits highlighted in her recent yoga therapy research.

And Ms Ward (47) was ''really proud'' of her achievements, given she had previously been out of the tertiary education system for some years.

''I'm excited for yoga that it's getting more well known, but I'm really excited for people with chronic health issues.

''I hope that my PhD provides another option for people with chronic illness to improve their quality of life through the practice of simple breathing and relaxation techniques.''

Such approaches were ''cheap and simple and can really benefit them''.

Ms Ward is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Otago University department of medicine and will graduate with an Otago PhD this Saturday.

She will be among more than 370 graduands who will graduate in person in a ceremony at the Dunedin Town Hall.

And her doctoral research - on yoga's role in the ''symptom management of musculoskeletal conditions''- has been recognised by the university as being of ''exceptional quality''.

She has practised yoga for the past 17 years and found it transformed her life, reducing the severe pain she experienced from a back injury.

Her research included a study involving 28 people with chronic rheumatoid arthritis.

Everyone received their usual medical support and half the group also underwent yoga therapy and learned yoga skills.

The people who learned yoga reported having improved sleep and reduced stress.

Ms Ward was also recently ''thrilled'' to be named one of 12 international early career researchers in complementary medicine to receive inaugural leadership fellowships from the Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Her PhD research was supported by Arthritis New Zealand.

Ms Ward, who gained an Otago BSc in 1988, has since travelled widely and worked in many jobs over the years, including as a part-time yoga teacher.

After a significant accident eight years ago, she decided to undertake research on yoga's health benefits, starting with a postgraduate diploma in psychology.