Improve Physical and Mental Health with an Isha Yoga Retreat

Improve Physical and Mental Health with an Isha Yoga Retreat

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

As we have physical science to create external wellbeing there is a whole inner dimension of science to create inner wellbeing. I call it Inner Engineering.” – Sadhguru

 

Retreat can be a powerful experience. But it can be quite difficult and challenging. It can be very tiring and physically challenging as engaging in sitting meditation repeatedly over the day is guaranteed to produce many aches and pains in the legs, back, and neck. But the real challenges are psychological, emotional, and spiritual. Retreat can be a real test. The darkness can descend. Deep emotional issues can emerge and may even overwhelm the individual. With all these difficulties, why would anyone want to put themselves through such an ordeal and go on a meditation retreat? People go because they find that retreat produces many profound and sometimes life altering benefits.

 

In today’s Research News article “Isha Yoga Practices and Participation in Samyama Program are Associated with Reduced HbA1C and Systemic Inflammation, Improved Lipid Profile, and Short-Term and Sustained Improvement in Mental Health: A Prospective Observational Study of Meditators.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.659667/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1645362_69_Psycho_20210525_arts_A )   Sadhasivam and colleagues recruited adult participants in a scheduled 8-day Isha yoga retreat and their spouses as controls. Retreat participants had to engage in 2 months of preparatory practices including a vegan diet daily practice of hata yoga, kriya yoga, and Shoonya meditation. In the retreat there was intensive practice. They were measured before, after, and 3-4 months later for depression, anxiety, mindfulness, joy, vitality, and resilience, diet, yoga practice, dietary restrictions, and overall health/well-being. They also had blood drawn and assayed for hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), hemoglobin (Hb), lipid profile [cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL), low density lipoprotein (LDL), and triglycerides (TG)], and C-reactive protein (CRP).

 

They found that after the retreat and sustained 3-4 months later were significant decreased in anxiety and depression and significant increases in mindfulness, joy, vitality, resilience, blood triglycerides, and body weight. These changes did not occur in the control group. Previous research has similarly demonstrated that yoga and meditation decreases anxiety, depression, blood triglycerides and increases joy, vitality, resilience, and body weight.

 

The study did not have a comparable control group and as a result there are a number of possible alternative explanations for the results including participant expectancy effects. To sign up for and engage in an intensive retreat, there was likely a strong belief that the retreat would be beneficial producing a strong expectancy (placebo) effect. Future research should include a comparison to a different kind of retreat or, as has been used in other studies, a comparison to the effects of a comparable duration vacation.

 

The results are interesting in that the participants had considerable practice during the 2-month preparatory phase. So, the effects of the practices would be expected to be present before the retreat began. So, the improvements observed were due to participation in a 4-day intensive retreat rather than the practices themselves. The retreat involves residential living in a group and withdrawal from daily life. This has social effects and vacation-like effects of removal of life stressors. These could be responsible for the observed benefits. This supports the need for future better controlled research.

 

So, improve physical and mental health with an Isha yoga retreat.

 

“An intense 4-day guided Isha meditation retreat significantly decreased depression and anxiety while improving happiness, mindfulness, and psychological well-being.” – Senthilkumar Sadhasivam

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Sadhasivam S, Alankar S, Maturi R, Williams A, Vishnubhotla RV, Hariri S, Mudigonda M, Pawale D, Dubbireddi S, Packiasabapathy S, Castelluccio P, Ram C, Renschler J, Chang T and Subramaniam B (2021) Isha Yoga Practices and Participation in Samyama Program are Associated with Reduced HbA1C and Systemic Inflammation, Improved Lipid Profile, and Short-Term and Sustained Improvement in Mental Health: A Prospective Observational Study of Meditators. Front. Psychol. 12:659667. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.659667

 

Background: Meditation is gaining recognition as a tool to impact health and well-being. Samyama is an 8-day intensive residential meditation experience conducted by Isha Foundation requiring several months of extensive preparation and vegan diet. The health effects of Samyama have not been previously studied. The objective was to assess physical and emotional well-being before and after Samyama participation by evaluating psychological surveys and objective health biomarkers.

Methods: This was an observational study of 632 adults before and after the Isha Samyama retreat. All participants were invited to complete surveys. Controls included household significant others. Surveys were completed at baseline (T1), just before Samyama (T2), immediately after Samyama (T3), and 3 months later (T4) to assess anxiety, depression, mindfulness, joy, vitality, and resilience through validated psychometric scales. Voluntary blood sampling for biomarker analysis was done to assess hemoglobin (Hb), HbA1c, lipid profile, and C-reactive protein (CRP). Primary outcomes were changes in psychometric scores, body weight, and blood biomarkers.

Results: Depression and anxiety scores decreased from T1 to T3, with the effect most pronounced in participants with baseline depression or anxiety. Scores at T4 remained below baseline for those with pre-existing depression or anxiety. Vitality, resilience, joy, and mindfulness increased from T1 to T3 (sustained at T4). Body weight decreased by 3% from T1 to T3. Triglycerides (TG) were lower from T2 to T3. Participants had lower HbA1c and HDL at T2, and lower CRP at all timepoints compared with controls.

Conclusions: Participation in the Isha Samyama program led to multiple benefits. The 2-month preparation reduced anxiety, and participants maintained lower anxiety levels at 3 months post-retreat. Physical health improved over the course of the program as evidenced by weight loss and improved HbA1C and lipid profile. Practices associated with the Samyama preparation phase and the retreat may serve as an effective way to improve physical and mental health. Future studies may examine their use as an alternative therapy in patients with depression and/or anxiety.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.659667/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1645362_69_Psycho_20210525_arts_A

 

Improve Student Mental Health with a Mindfulness App

Improve Student Mental Health with a Mindfulness App

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Students who had been practising mindfulness had distress scores lower than their baseline levels even during exam time, which suggests that mindfulness helps build resilience against stress.” – Julieta Galante

 

In the modern world education is a key for success. Where a high school education was sufficient in previous generations, a college degree is now required to succeed in the new knowledge-based economies. There is a lot of pressure on students to excel so that they can be admitted to the best universities and there is a lot of pressure on university students to excel so that they can get the best jobs after graduation. As a result, parents and students are constantly looking for ways to improve student performance in school.

 

The primary tactic has been to pressure the student and clear away routine tasks and chores so that the student can focus on their studies. But, this might in fact be counterproductive as the increased pressure can actually lead to stress and anxiety which can impede performance. A better tactic may be the development of mindfulness skills with contemplative practices. These practices and high levels of mindfulness have been shown to be helpful in coping with the school environment and for the performance of both students and teachers. So, perhaps, mindfulness training may provide the needed edge in college academic performance.

 

The vast majority of the mindfulness training techniques, however, require a certified trained therapist. This produces costs that many students and counseling centers can’t afford. In addition, the participants must be available to attend multiple sessions at particular scheduled times that may or may not be compatible with their busy schedules and at locations that may not be convenient. As an alternative, Smartphone Apps have been developed. These have tremendous advantages in decreasing costs, making training schedules much more flexible, and eliminating the need to go repeatedly to specific locations. But, the question arises as to the effectiveness of these Apps.

 

In today’s Research News article “Evaluation of an mHealth App (DeStressify) on University Students’ Mental Health: Pilot Trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5801522/ ), Lee and Jung recruited university students and randomly assigned them to either a wait-list condition or to work with a mindfulness app (DeStressify) for a month, 5 days per week for 3 to 20 minutes per day. They were measured before and after the training period for perceived stress, anxiety, depression, sleep quality, health-related quality of life, work productivity, and app use.

 

They found that after mindfulness app training the students reported significant reductions in perceived stress, fatigue, and anxiety and significant increases in general health-related quality of life, energy, and productivity. A lack in the study was that mindfulness was not measured. So, it cannot be concluded that improvements in mindfulness produced by the App was responsible for the benefits. Nevertheless, these are interesting and potentially important results. They suggest that the use of a mindfulness app by university students can provide improvements in physical and mental health and productivity. This can be important for the students’ success in school by making them more energetic and healthy and with less emotional disruption.

 

This is particularly important as the app does not require expensive staff time. It can be used at the busy students’ convenience in both location and time. And it is very easy and inexpensive to use and can be distributed widely. Given the mindfulness app can also improve the students’ well-being, it would seem ideal for use by college students.

 

So, improve student mental health with a mindfulness App.

 

“If you have unproductive worries, you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently. “You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self,’” – Elizabeth Hoge

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Lee, R. A., & Jung, M. E. (2018). Evaluation of an mHealth App (DeStressify) on University Students’ Mental Health: Pilot Trial. JMIR Mental Health, 5(1), e2. http://doi.org/10.2196/mental.8324

 

Abstract

Background

One in five Canadians experience mental health issues with those in the age range of 15 to 24 years being most at risk of a mood disorder. University students have shown significantly higher rates of mental health problems than the general public. Current university support services are limited by factors such as available staff and finances, and social stigma has frequently been identified as an additional barrier that prevents students from accessing these resources. Mobile health (mHealth) apps are one form of alternative health support that is discrete and accessible to students, and although they are recognized as a promising alternative, there is limited research demonstrating their efficacy.

Objective

The aim of this study was to evaluate a mindfulness-based app’s (“DeStressify”) efficacy on stress, anxiety, depressive symptomology, sleep behavior, work or class absenteeism, work or school productivity, and quality of life (QoL) among university students.

Methods

Full-time undergraduate students at a Canadian university with smartphones and Internet access were recruited through in-class announcements and on-campus posters. Participants randomized into an experimental condition were given and instructed to use the DeStressify app 5 days a week for 4 weeks. Control condition participants were wait-listed. All participants completed pre- and postintervention Web-based surveys to self-assess stress, anxiety, depressive symptomatology, sleep quality, and health-related QoL.

Results

A total of 206 responses were collected at baseline, with 163 participants completing the study (86 control, 77 experimental). Using DeStressify was shown to reduce trait anxiety (P=.01) and improve general health (P=.001), energy (P=.01), and emotional well-being (P=.01) in university students, and more participants in the experimental condition believed their productivity improved between baseline and postintervention measurements than the number of participants expected to believe so randomly by chance (P=.01). The app did not significantly improve stress, state anxiety, physical and social functioning, and role limitations because of physical or emotional health problems or pain (P>.05).

Conclusions

Mindfulness-based apps may provide an effective alternative support for university students’ mental health. Universities and other institutions may benefit from promoting the use of DeStressify or other mindfulness-based mHealth apps among students who are interested in methods of anxiety management or mindfulness-based self-driven health support. Future steps include examining DeStressify and similar mHealth apps over a longer period and in university staff and faculty.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5801522/

 

Improve Self-Esteem with Yoga Postures

Improve Self-Esteem with Yoga Postures

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Yoga allows us to start to slow down the self-critic, and start to observe that this voices in our heads isn’t necessarily the reality. To slow down and get into the body and say ‘OK, when these thoughts are coming up, there’s something actually behind the thoughts that we’re observing’ — that connects us more to our true self versus the dialogue that may be running us.” – Vyda Bielkus

 

Yoga practice has been repeated demonstrated in research studies to be beneficial for the psychological and physical health of the practitioners. But, yoga is a complex of practices including postures, movements, breathing practices and meditation. In addition, there are a wide variety of practices including Vinyoga, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram, Power, Kundalini, Sivananda, Kripalu, Anusara, and Hatha, and others. To better utilize yoga practice for particular issues, it would be useful to examine which components of yoga practice benefits which areas of mental and physical health.

 

Studies of yoga postures suggests that different postures may have different psychological effects. Erect, vertical and erect and open body postures have been associated with power and dominance (see a in attached picture). So, they are sometimes called power postures. Low ‘power poses’ emphasize slumping of the spine and decreasing the size of the chest (see b in attached picture). On the other hand, standing yoga poses emphasize the lift of the spine and the lift and openness of the chest rather than expansiveness of the body (see c in attached picture). Some standing yoga poses have arms crossed and covering the front of the body. They are considered constrictive, covered front yoga poses (see d in attached picture).

 

In today’s Research News article “Yoga Poses Increase Subjective Energy and State Self-Esteem in Comparison to “Power Poses.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5425577/, de Zavala and colleagues compared power vs. yoga poses with open front of body vs. covered front of body in their ability to alter energy and self-esteem. They recruited college students and randomly assigned them to one of four groups; power pose-open front, power pose-covered front, yoga pose-open front, yoga pose-covered front in a 2X2 randomized factorial design. The participants held two poses in their respective category for 1 minute each. They were measured before and after the brief yoga practice for self-esteem and subjective energy.

 

They found that momentarily holding yoga poses, but not power poses, produced a significant increase in self-esteem that was mediated by increases in subjective energy. That is, both the yoga pose-open front and yoga pose-covered front increased subjective energy which, in turn, increased self-esteem. These effects are particularly interesting as they were produced by holding two poses for only 1 minute each. It’s quite striking to see such extremely brief poses producing significant effects on the participants psychology.

 

It is also striking that these effects were only present for the yoga poses and not the power poses. The explanation for these effects is not obvious. It is possible, though, that erect, straight poses, particularly those where the hands are held above the head are more strenuous, particularly on the cardiovascular system, and this leads to a sympathetic arousal response, making the individual feel more energetic. Feeling more energetic may make the individual feel better about themselves which in turn improves self-esteem.

 

This study is particularly interesting as it points to a productive strategy to unraveling how yoga practice has such widespread benefits for the physical and mental health of the participants. By investigating the physiological and psychological effects of individual poses it may be possible to glimpse the mechanisms by which complex yoga practices produce their benefits. This is a classic case of reductionism, taking a complex phenomenon apart into its constituent parts and then recombining the individual effects of the parts to understand the whole. This is an interesting strategy that only future research will determine if it’s a valuable way to unlock the mechanisms producing the benefits of yoga practice.

 

“Yoga makes a difference because of its emphasis on self-acceptance, something that’s largely missing for those of us who dislike our bodies. The program in our heads—I’m not pretty enough, thin enough, tall enough—builds in volume over years until it’s practically the only radio station playing. Odd as it seems, the vessel that keeps us alive, that nourishes us, begins to get nothing but our scorn in return.” – Dorothy Foltz-Gray

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Golec de Zavala, A., Lantos, D., & Bowden, D. (2017). Yoga Poses Increase Subjective Energy and State Self-Esteem in Comparison to “Power Poses.” Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 752. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00752

 

Abstract

Research on beneficial consequences of yoga focuses on the effects of yogic breathing and meditation. Less is known about the psychological effects of performing yoga postures. The present study investigated the effects of yoga poses on subjective sense of energy and self-esteem. The effects of yoga postures were compared to the effects of ‘power poses,’ which arguably increase the sense of power and self-confidence due to their association with interpersonal dominance (Carney et al., 2010). The study tested the novel prediction that yoga poses, which are not associated with interpersonal dominance but increase bodily energy, would increase the subjective feeling of energy and therefore increase self-esteem compared to ‘high power’ and ‘low power’ poses. A two factorial, between participants design was employed. Participants performed either two standing yoga poses with open front of the body (n = 19), two standing yoga poses with covered front of the body (n = 22), two expansive, high power poses (n = 21), or two constrictive, low power poses (n = 20) for 1-min each. The results showed that yoga poses in comparison to ‘power poses’ increased self-esteem. This effect was mediated by an increased subjective sense of energy and was observed when baseline trait self-esteem was controlled for. These results suggest that the effects of performing open, expansive body postures may be driven by processes other than the poses’ association with interpersonal power and dominance. This study demonstrates that positive effects of yoga practice can occur after performing yoga poses for only 2 min.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5425577/