Reduce Stress with Yoga
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Yoga helps us slow down for a moment and tune into the breath. Simply the focus on one thing — which is the very definition of meditation — allows us to decompress.” – Terri Kennedy
Stress is an integral part of life. In fact, I’ve quipped that the definition of death is when stress ceases. People often think of stress as a bad thing. But, it is in fact essential to the health of the body. If the muscles are not stressed to some extent they deteriorate. As it turns out, this is also true for the brain. The same goes for our psychological health. If we don’t have any stress, we call it boredom. In fact, we invest time and resources in stressing ourselves, e.g ridding rollercoasters, sky diving, competing in sports, etc. We say we love a challenge, but, challenges are all stressful. So, we actually love to stress ourselves. In moderation, it is healthful and provides interest and fun to life.
If stress, is high or is prolonged, however, it can be problematic. It can damage our physical and mental health and even reduce our longevity, leading to premature deaths. So, it is important that we develop methods to either reduce or control high or prolonged stress or reduce our responses to it. Mindfulness practices have been found routinely to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress. A physiological indicator of stress is the levels of the hormone Cortisol in the blood. Mindfulness training has been shown to reduce cortisol levels. But, it is not known what types of mindfulness training techniques are effective and which may be less so. Hence, it makes sense to test the effectiveness of yoga practice to reduce perceived stress and responsiveness to stress as measured by Cortisol levels.
In today’s Research News article “Longitudinal and Immediate Effect of Kundalini Yoga on Salivary Levels of Cortisol and Activity of Alpha-Amylase and Its Effect on Perceived Stress.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5433116/, García-Sesnich and colleagues recruited college students participating in in a 3-month Kundalini Yoga class and a comparable group of college students who were not participating. They were measured before and after the 3-month practice period for perceived stress and saliva samples were obtained to measure cortisol and α-amylase levels, markers of stress.
They found that following the 3-month intervention period, compared to the baseline and control group the yoga group had a significant decrease in perceived stress but there were no significant differences for either cortisol and α-amylase levels. Hence the yoga program decreased the psychological but not the physical markers of stress. It is not clear as to why they failed to detect an effect of yoga practice on cortisol and α-amylase levels as previous research has shown significant reductions after yoga practice. It is possible that the small sample size did not provide sufficient statistical power to detect a significant change. Regardless, yoga practice was demonstrated to produce improvements in perceived stress in college students, a group that is generally highly stressed.
So, reduce stress with yoga.
“Meditation is an incredibly powerful tool for relaxing and slowing down the mind as is any kind of breath awareness. Whether you’re holding postures, flowing through sequences, or in a seated meditation pose, everything begins to focus and slow down when you take your awareness to the breath. Over time and with repeated practice, you start to develop new habits towards a more relaxed internal state.” – Anna Coventry
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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García-Sesnich, J. N., Flores, M. G., Ríos, M. H., & Aravena, J. G. (2017). Longitudinal and Immediate Effect of Kundalini Yoga on Salivary Levels of Cortisol and Activity of Alpha-Amylase and Its Effect on Perceived Stress. International Journal of Yoga, 10(2), 73–80. http://doi.org/10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_45_16
Stress is defined as an alteration of an organism’s balance in response to a demand perceived from the environment. Diverse methods exist to evaluate physiological response. A noninvasive method is salivary measurement of cortisol and alpha-amylase. A growing body of evidence suggests that the regular practice of Yoga would be an effective treatment for stress.
To determine the Kundalini Yoga (KY) effect, immediate and after 3 months of regular practice, on the perception of psychological stress and the salivary levels of cortisol and alpha-amylase activity.
Settings and Design:
To determine the psychological perceived stress, levels of cortisol and alpha-amylase activity in saliva, and compare between the participants to KY classes performed for 3 months and a group that does not practice any type of yoga.
Subjects and Methods:
The total sample consisted of 26 people between 18 and 45-year-old; 13 taking part in KY classes given at the Faculty of Dentistry, University of Chile and 13 controls. Salivary samples were collected, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay was performed to quantify cortisol and kinetic reaction test was made to determine alpha-amylase activity. Perceived Stress Scale was applied at the beginning and at the end of the intervention.
Statistical Analysis Used:
Statistical analysis was applied using Stata v11.1 software. Shapiro–Wilk test was used to determine data distribution. The paired analysis was fulfilled by t-test or Wilcoxon signed-rank test. T-test or Mann–Whitney’s test was applied to compare longitudinal data. A statistical significance was considered when P< 0.05.
KY practice had an immediate effect on salivary cortisol. The activity of alpha-amylase did not show significant changes. A significant decrease of perceived stress in the study group was found.
KY practice shows an immediate effect on salivary cortisol levels and on perceived stress after 3 months of practice.