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Yoga: The Natural Stress Reliever

Tanima Jana


Table of Contents

What is yoga and what are its benefits?

What are the different aspects of yoga?

How does yoga work?

Who is yoga for?

How effective is yoga?

Are there any concerns about yoga?

Conclusion

References



What is yoga and what are its benefits?

     Yoga is a system of physical exercise that, by creating a harmonious internal environment, enables an individual to establish a balance between mind and body. Yoga not only delves into the physical components of life, but also the mental and spiritual (http://www.holisticonline.com/Yoga/hol_yoga_phil.htm#Whatisyoga). From a physical standpoint, yoga helps build muscle and joint flexibility, helps with muscular skeletal pains, aids in digestion, and helps lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. From a mental standpoint, yoga increases concentration levels and awareness of outside surroundings http://www.mv.com/ipusers/howell/ejh/ Yoga also helps reduce stress and hypertension.

Studies showing the benefits of yoga on hypertension

     The following two studies investigate the effect of yoga exercises on hypertension. In the first, Brownstein and Dembert (1989) explored the theory in a case study done on a 46-year-old Caucasian male USAF aviator who had been suffering from mild essential hypertension for six years. He routinely underwent treatment which included hydrochlorothiazide, a more balanced diet, and exercise. The treatment was unsuccessful and the man was placed on a program in which he was taught various methods of yoga relaxation and was given instruction on how to observe his blood pressure, maintain a good diet and exercise routine, and safely reduce his hydrochlorothiazide medicine (over the course of three weeks). Over the next 6 weeks, his progress was evaluated. At the end of the 6 weeks, his blood pressure was 122/86 mm (as opposed to 138/92 mm before the treatment). He continued the yoga exercises and, six months later, his blood pressure was a steady 122/83 mm. Brownstein and Dembert pointed out that yoga seemingly played a large part in reducing the patient's hypertension enough to where no medicine was needed, but they also emphasize weight loss and exercise played a part in the improved health condition.

      In the second study, Chandra Patel (1975) divided 40 people who were divided according to hypertensive controls into a treatment group and a control group. There were 9 males and 11 females in each group. The average age of the patients in the treatment group was 57.35 and the average age of the patients in the control group was 57.2. All of the patients were seen for half hour increments 2-3 times a week. Their blood pressures were measured in the sitting, standing, and supine positions both at the beginning and at the end of each session. In the training session, the patients were supine on a couch, with hands and fingers slightly flexed, head elevated, and eyes closed. They were then led through a series of yoga breathing exercises, which consisted of breathing slowly, achieving a rhythm, and meditation. Both the treatment group and the control group attended these sessions. The control group, however, as opposed to special relaxation exercises, simply rested on a couch. The difference in pretrial and post-trial systolic and diastolic blood pressures varied quite greatly for each group. The complete results are shown below.



The patients were reevaluated after 3, 6, and 9 months. The results are shown below.



The treatment group, which performed the yoga breathing exercises, had a significantly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure than the control group, which didn't do the breathing exercises. The following table (as shown in Pandya, V. Vyas, S. Vyas (1999)) further shows the effect of yoga on hypertension.



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What are the different aspects of yoga?

      The average yoga class revolves around three main areas: breathing, body postures (asansas), and meditation. Gradual, deep breaths enable the prana, or life force, to enter the body and pursue harmony, whereas quick, irregular breaths interfere with the prana. The various body postures of yoga serve to fortify the muscles and skeletal system, while also alleviating pressure on the nerves and organs. Meditation complements the other two aspects of yoga in pursuing a tranquil mental state and a harmonious relationship with mind and body http://health.yahoo.com/health/Alternative_Medicine/Alternative_Therapies/Yoga/. All three of these aspects have been explored in multiple studies.

Studies done on the effects of yoga postures and breathing exercises

      Singh and Udupa (cited in Pestonjee (1992)) investigated the effects of asanas and pranayama on healthy male volunteers. The volunteers practiced yoga body postures and breathing exercises one hour every day for six months. Singh and Udupa noted that the activities increased the volunteers' activity levels, memory, and awareness, while also reducing fatigue, blood sugar, and serum cholesterol levels. Furthermore, thyroid and testicular activities were increased. A more thorough study was done by Datey (cited in Pestonjee (1992)). He separated 86 hypertensive patients into 3 groups: Group 1 was composed of people not taking any anti-hypertensive drugs, Group 2 was composed of people whose blood pressure was normal as a result of drugs, and Group 3 was composed of people whose blood pressure was exceedingly high even with the influence of drugs. Each group were instructed on savasana, a type of body posture, for 3 months. At the end of the 3 months, many patients noticed a decrease in headaches, anxiety, and insomnia. In Group I, the average blood pressure fell from 134 to 107 mm of Hg. In Group II, the drug intake was decreased 32%, and in Group III, the drug intake was reduced 29 % and the average blood pressure decreased from 120 to 110 mm of Hg.

Study on the effects of meditation

      A study done by Udupa, Singh, and Dwivedi (cited in Pestonjee (1992)) researched the effects of meditation. Two groups of volunteers were exposed to vipassana meditation over a span of ten days. At the end of the study, the volunteers' blood levels showed an increase in acetylcholine, cholinesterase, catecholamines, and histaminase, all of which serve as neurotransmitters. This study showed that after vipassana meditation, the volunteers were more neurophysiologically fit and stable.

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How does yoga work?

      Yoga enables individuals to understand their physical and psychological thoughts and feelings. Hence, it becomes much easier to deal with and react to life's everyday obstacles http://www.yogasite.com/why.htm. Yoga distributes oxygen to every part of the body. Oxygen purifies the body and helps avoid insomnia and tension (Pandya, V. Vyas, S. Vyas (1999)). Sufficient breathing exercises help establish a connection with the left side of the brain, which focuses primarily with reasoning skills and the right side of the brain, which focuses more on emotional skills. Also, deep breathing allows oxygen to enter the body and send energy throughout the body, jumpstarting mental and physical movements. In addition, there are certain weight-bearing postures that help maintain much needed bone mass http://www.mv.com/ipusers/howell/ejh/. The meditation facet of yoga focuses on lessening illness by enabling the mind to ignore negative impulses and concentrate on positive impulses. Through meditation, a person can alter the amount of sleep needed per night. Basically, one can sleep several hours less per night and feel just as refreshed http://www.allsands.com/Health/Alternative/yogahealthbene_rfy_gn.htm! Yoga also teaches individuals to have a genuine respect for their mind and body. Consequently, many people who undertake yoga often become vegetarians and follow a diet filled with beans and grains http://www.allsands.com/Health/benefitofyoga_uma_gn.htm.

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Who is yoga for?

      Yoga is for people of all ages and gender. For children, yoga can represent an enjoyable experience that also serves to improve mental and physical processes, including coordination and concentration. http://www.mv.com/ipusers/howell/ejh/. For teenagers, yoga provides them with the willpower to reject negative impulses. Older people view yoga as a doorway to improved mobility and flexibility and a source of respite from painful arthritic and muscular conditions. In addition, yoga may be very beneficial to people who work in high stress level situations and those who suffer from muscle aches, allergies and asthmahttp://www.allsands.com/Health/benefitofyoga_uma_gn.htm. Gimbel (1998) notes that imagery and meditation help greatly with back aches, allergies, gastrointestinal problems and other illnesses related to stress. Remarkably, yoga has been proven to improve the health of mother and unborn child during pregnancy. http://www.mv.com/ipusers/howell/ejh/. Yoga has also been proven to help with various behavior disorders.

Study on the benefits of yoga on behavior disorders

      To investigate the impact of yoga on adults with obsessive compulsive disorder, Shannahoff-Khalsa and Beckett (1996) conducted a study of eight adults who had been identified as having the obsessive compulsive disorder according to DSM-III-R criteria. The eight adults, all of whom had previously been exposed to some kind of treatment (medication, psychotherapy), attended meetings once a week for a year and were taught various yoga techniques. At the end of the year, all but one adult recorded an improvement on the Y-BOCS (Yale-Brown Compulsive Data Scale). The average Y-BOCS improvement was 54%.

Study on the impact of yoga on men and women

      In a study of yoga and meditation, Smith, Rice, Cucci, and Williams (1999) observed that men perform yoga more consistently and more often than women. Consequently, men showed less tension, stress, and depression. In considering relaxation states, males tended to score higher in maintain higher levels of Disengagement, Physical Relaxation, Mental Relaxation, and Strength and Awareness. Another study done by Bowers, Darner, and Goldner (as cited in Smith (1999)) confirmed that men scored higher on Disengagement, Physical Relaxation, Mental Relxation, Strength and Awareness. They also scored higher on Mental Quiet and Joy, while women scored higher on Love and Thankfulness, Sleepiness, Deeper Perspective, Belief in God, Belief in Love, and Honesty. In terms of study results, men appeared more relaxed but were not willing to reveal their reaction states. Females, on the other hand, seemed to be less relaxed and more likely to reveal their beliefs. The fact that men tended to have higher levels of relaxation contradicted an earlier self-selection hypothesis. Women, most likely because of their optimistic beliefs about relaxation, were prone to defects in the relaxation dispositions.

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How effective is yoga?

      Research shows that yoga significantly affects the activities of the mind and body, while also drastically changing one's psychological mindset. Yoga has been proven to modify brain wave activity and produce a sense of relaxation. In addition, many supporters of yoga say that it reduces stress, improves memory and fitness, and reduces blood pressure and respiratory rate. In a study by Walton (as cited in Gimbel (1998)), a group of healthy college students who had been practicing transcendental medicine for 8 years had lower cortisol levels than college students who had not practiced the medicine. Not all studies, however, support the proposed benefits of yoga treatment.

Studies contradicting the use of yoga treatment

      To compare the psychological effects of yoga and physical exercise, Shestopal (1999) conducted a study with 97 students at a state university. Each student either participated in a physical education class, took yoga, or did no physical activity. The students filled out self-reports at the beginning and end of the semester. At the end of the semester, data showed that the students' mindsets had not changed. However, contrasting data showed that yoga students appeared more stressed than the exercise students and the exercise students were better off than the students who did no physical activity. The study showed that sometimes psychological methods other than yoga (in this case physical exercise) are best for a group of patients. Ramaratnam S. & Sridharan K. (2000) explored the use of yoga with patients suffering from epilepsy. 32 patients were examined, with 10 being in the sahaja yoga group and 22 being in the control group. After examining odds ratios and confidence intervals of the two groups, they deduced that there was not enough conclusive evidence to consider yoga a productive treatment for epilepsy. They declared that further studies on yoga and epilepsy must be done. Nespor (1994, page 295) further elaborated on the conflicts of yoga saying, "The problem when using yoga in psychiatry is active cooperation; systemic interactions must be foreseen, it is important to warn against competitiveness and specific indications and contraindications of different yoga exercises must be respected."

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Are there any concerns about yoga?

      Although yoga is quite useful in pursuing a perfect physiological state, there can still be complications. Exercises with sharp and forceful movements should be avoided. Certebral artery occlusion, acute cerebellar infarction, and acute medullary infaction have been known to occur (Pandya, V. Vyas, S. Vyas (1999)). If a person has recently had a back injury or any type of surgery, yoga should be avoided. Also, consult a doctor if one suffers from arthritis, heart disease, slipped disks, or high blood pressure. Even though yoga often helps lower blood pressure, certain body postures may have negative effects and one needs to make sure the yoga instructor is aware of one's situation. Also, expectant mothers and persons with a cold or an infection should not engage in vigorous yoga exercises. Upon beginning yoga, stiffness may occur as a result of various postures and positions. Don't be alarmed. If yoga is done properly, stiffness should be temporary http://health.yahoo.com/health/Alternative_Medicine/Alternative_Therapies/Yoga. It should be pointed out that yoga is under no circumstances an alternative to medicine and should not replace a medical prescription http://www.allsands.com/Health/Alternative/yogahealthbene_rfy_gn.htm.

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Conclusion

      The majority of medical studies done on yoga show a very positive response and reaction to treatment. Studies have been conducted that show the benefits of yoga on hypertension, stress, behavior disorders and many other illnesses. Many medical experts support this claim. However, yoga has critics also. Studies show that in some cases, physical exercise is a better substitute for yoga. Furthermore, yoga does not work for everyone. Yoga must be practiced on a consistent basis; otherwise, it will have no effect. Finally, there is no conclusive evidence that yoga is a beneficial treatment for every disease. Much more research needs to be done to prove that yoga actually is the best natural stress reliever.

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References

Brownstein, Arthur H. & Dembert, Mark L. (1989). "Treatment of Essential Hypertension with Yoga Relaxation Therapy in a USAF Aviator: A Case Report." Aviation Space & Environmental Science, 60(7), 684-686.

Gimbel, M. Anne. (1998). "Yoga, Meditation, and Imagery: Clinical Applications." Nurse Practitioner Forum, 9(4), 243-251.

Nespor, K. (1994). "Use of Yoga in Psychiatry." Cas Lek Cesk,133(10): 295-7.

Pandya, Dipak P., Vyas, Vaidehi H., & Vyas, Shrirupa H. (1999). "Mind-Body Therapy in the Management and Prevention of Coronary Disease." Comprehensive Therapy, 25(5), 283-390.

Patel, Chandra R. (1975). "Yoga and Biofeedback in the Management of Hypertension." Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 19 (5/6), 355-560.

Pestonjee, D.M. Stress and Coping. London: Sage, 1992.

Ramaratnam S. & Sridharan K. (2000) "Yoga for epilepsy." Cochrane Database System Review (3).

Shannahoff-Khalsa, David S. & Beckett, Liana R. (1996). "Clinical Case Report: Efficacy of Yogic Techniques in the Treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders." International Journal of Neuroscience, 85, 1-17.

Shestopal, Aryeh-Leonid. (1999). "Psychological effects of physical exercise and yoga." Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 59(7-B): 3714.

Smith, Jonathan C. ABC Relaxation Theory. New York: Springer, 1999.

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