Encouraging Iyengar yoga students to continue attending class at least once weekly may make a significant difference in their stress levels and in their quality of life, according to study findings published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
(2012; doi: 10.1155/2012/408727).
Mounting evidence shows that the debilitating consequences of excess stress in modern industrialized countries worldwide are a factor in as many as 60% of all physician visits. Stress contributes to heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, chronic pain, delayed wound healing, depression and cancer. And research has shown that both objective stress and perceived stress are related to shortened telomere length, a biomarker of aging.
Researchers from a variety of institutions in Germany, Austria and Norway conducted a study to investigate the stress-reducing qualities of Iyengar yoga practice. Scientists randomly divided 72 adult female subjects with high stress levels into three groups. One group attended a 90-minute yoga class once weekly, while the second practiced twice weekly; members of the third (control) group did no yoga and were asked to maintain their routine activities. The study continued for 3 months.
A certified Iyengar instructor led the classes, which were specifically designed to include postures for stress reduction—particularly back bends, standing postures, forward bends and inversions. Each class concluded with 15 minutes of savasana. Participants were encouraged, but not required, to practice at home. Investigators collected data related to perceived stress and mental and physical well-being at the study outset and after 3 months.
Data analysis showed a significant improvement in perceived stress, anxiety, depression, bodily complaints and both psychological and physical quality of life for all
yoga group subjects. Participation was higher in the group that met once weekly, leading researchers to conclude that adhering to a more rigorous practice schedule may not be necessary for stress symptom improvement.
More research is warranted with longer-term follow-up, larger sample sizes and male as well as female subjects. For the list of yoga postures used in the program, go to www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2012/408727/sup/
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