Practices like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, have been shown to improve sleep and reduce stress and anxiety. In light of this fact, researchers at Appalachian State University (ASU) in Boone, North Carolina, wanted to determine whether Pilates, tai chi or Gyrokinesis® practice—as mind-body movement methods—would also improve mindfulness and provide similar associated benefits, such as stress reduction and improved sleep.
Investigators recruited 166 male and female students enrolled in six Pilates, four Gyrokinesis exercise and two tai chi semester-length college classes. At the beginning, midpoint and end of the semester, subjects completed surveys that measured mindfulness, sleep quality, self-efficacy, mood and stress.
Data analysis showed that as a group, participants in each exercise modality made improvements in mindfulness. These improvements were associated with better sleep, self-efficacy and mood, along with a perceived reduction in stress levels. (Differences in scores from the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index were not statistically significant; however, the actual number of students who reported insomnia dropped by 7%.)
Limitations of the study included the fact that it was observational; therefore, findings were correlational, meaning they were not necessarily a direct result of the activities being observed. Moreover, no control group was used, so improved mindfulness might simply have been a normal development of being a college student. Alternatively, it is possible that participation in these mind-body movement activities improved sleep quality, which then resulted in increased mindfulness.
Lead study author Karen Caldwell, PhD, professor in the department of human development and psychological counseling at ASU, noted, “We are trying to bridge two worlds with our research: the experiential world of our students and the current Western clinical/research worlds. Students in our Pilates, tai chi and Gyrokinesis [classes] tell us informally about feeling better after their practice, and they often report improvements in a number of ways, including physical, mental, emotional and social. Current Western clinical research into mindfulness offers one way of describing the changes our students are experiencing.”
Caldwell and colleagues concluded that their study provided encouraging preliminary data to suggest that a variety of movement courses can effectively increase mindfulness, and that increased mindfulness is associated with significant improvements in mood and perceived stress, which in turn result in better sleep quality. The findings were published in the Journal of American College Health (2010; 58 , 433–42).