Yoga and Stress Reduction

Introduction

The contemporary society is characterized by high levels tension and distresses emanating from financial, emotional, and physical strains. Consequently, people in the modern age suffer greatly from stress and stress related disorders which have become a major source of ill health and mortality in the world (Udupa & Prasad, 1983). Constant excessive stress is associated with a wide variety of health complications. Indeed, numerous accidental injuries have been attributed to excessive stress and strain experienced in life. People suffering from excessive stress are also prone to different types of infections due to poor immunological response in comparison to normally functioning individuals (Udupa & Prasad, 1983). Unfortunately, almost every aspect of an individual’s life has an inherent ability to instigate stress. Facing challenges, witnessing tragic events, being a victim of natural disasters and even taking part in various celebration events has the potential to elicit stress which negatively impacts on an individual’s life and health condition (Karma Garden, 2006).

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Individuals respond to stressful stimuli either by flight or fight response which consequently stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and some hormonal pathways resulting in the production of cortisol from the adrenal gland. In the short run, this process is essential in enabling the individual to respond appropriately to stressors. In fact, immediate stress has been associated with extra ordinary accomplishments which are enhanced by rapid increment in blood pressure and sugar, heart rate, and mental focus that leads to the production of cortisol (Karma Garden, 2006). However, constant and excessive stress normally interferes with normal bodily functioning and impairs both physical and mental capabilities of the individual. Chronic stress is especially damaging since it is associated with continuous decline in the individual’s immune system resulting from overproduction of cortisol. Further, heightened blood sugar levels, heart rate and blood pressure is harmful to the long term health of the individual.

Yoga intervention has been scientifically proven to reduce the physical effects of stress its practitioners and has also been found to considerably lower the levels of cortisol in the body. The practice provides a relaxing effect to the participants with its physical postures effectively reducing muscular tension which in turn reduces stress (Udupa & Prasad, 1983). Stress accumulates in an individual’s nervous system, the body’s musculature and other tissues and yoga actively releases the accumulated stress through its wide variety of exercises. These practices include physical postures (asana), breathing practices (pranayama), meditation (dhyana), and ethical precepts and observances (yamas and niyamas) among other activities (Karma Garden, 2006).

Yoga techniques play a major role in stress reduction and improve the participant’s relationship with the impersonal component of nature. Breath regulation is associated with improved blood circulation and relaxation which promotes effective management of negative responses to stress. When an individual is under stress, he experiences rapid shallow pants which only serve to increase stress levels. Yoga intervention seeks to stabilize and deepen the breathing process causing the body to relax which significantly reduces stress.

It has been argued that stress disorders result from multifactorial responses. Genetic factors are one of the major causes of stress (Udupa & Prasad, 1983). Susceptibility to develop certain conditions such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and coronary diseases often runs in the family. In addition, the psycho somatic constitution of an individual is a genetically transmitted trait and renders individual vulnerable to various stress disorders. Moreover, psychologists have identified various types of personalities which are genetically transmitted such as introverts and extroverts. Introverts are more susceptible to stress than extroverts (Udupa & Prasad, 1983). In addition to genetic susceptibilities, various environmental factors such as age, sex, marital status, childhood experiences, and amount of daily work load plays a major role in development of stress related disorders. Failure to adapt to various changes occurring in the external environment results in stress and exhaustion which results in stress disorder.

Origins of Yoga

Yoga is an ancient Indian science which has been widely adopted by the western culture as a healthy way of life. Various yoga exercises such as Hatha yoga, Kundalini yoga, shavasama, and Sudershan Kriya yoga have been successfully applied in stress management and high blood pressure with regular practice of yoga displaying positive effects on individual’s wellbeing, depression and anxiety levels (Chiplonkar & Agte, 2008). Yoga practice has its origins traced back to Indian culture and its original form comprised of a complex system of spiritual, moral and physical practices which were designed to help participants to reach higher levels of self awareness (Pilkington et al, n d). Currently, yoga has gained increased popularity in the secular world and has been adopted as a clinical therapeutic intervention in the treatment of stress and stress related disorders. A national survey conducted in the United States revealed that 7.5% of the respondents who had undertaken yoga sessions at least once in their lifetime experienced improvement in their wellbeing and specific health (Pilkington et al., n d).

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Yoga forms one of the six systems of Indian ancient philosophy and mysticism which were transmitted from generation to generation as a sacred and a secret wisdom of hermitage (Nath, 2005). The technique was developed by the great sages in their quest for self realization and has evolved over time into the science of man, a philosophy of life, code of conduct, an attitude and approach, as well as a way of life which has an inherent ability of ensuring physical well being, mental peace, moral elevation, and spiritual uplifting among the participants (Nath, 2005). It is multidimensional and constitutes of a wide range of approaches aimed at reaching a specific outcome. Whether it is Raja yoga, Hatha yoga, Dhyana yoga, Kundalini yoga or any other type of yoga, the emphasis is on mind control, steadying the mind and subordinating it to the super intellect as well as claiming the soul (Nath, 2005). The practice introduces an insulating element between an individual’s mind and actions ensuring that he strikes a balance between perceptions and actions.

Modern clinical procedures have increased their use of meditative and mind based practices in the treatment of people suffering from chronic stress related disorders making the method of mind/ body interaction to be integrated in the treatment of these indications (Davidson, 2003). Numerous questions have been raised regarding the effectiveness of meditation and other mind based stress management programs in reducing the levels of stress among the practitioners. Research bodies have engaged in extensive research on the effects of meditation and exercises on somatic, cognitive, and affective processes in human beings (Davidson, 2003). Some of the studies have proven that mindfulness meditation and yoga significantly influences the stress levels and improves immunity consequently boosting the health standards of the practitioners. Meditation has been found to be especially effective in the stress level reduction due to its ability to activate the brain to focus on positive and negative affect induction (Davidson, 2003).

Origins of stress

Stress has become a major subject of investigation by modern scholars due to its adverse effects on contemporary livelihood. Hans Selye, one of the earliest scholars to study the topic of stress demonstrated the effects of stress on bodies of the experimental animals. However, few attempts were made to apply his findings in solving diverse human problems (Udupa & Prasad, 1983). Selye’s original proposition was that all non specific responses of stress such as hypertrophy of adrenal cortex and gastro intestinal ulcerations occurred as a result of excessive secretion of adrenocortical hormones (Udupa & Prasad, 1983). The scholar further confirmed that such responses resulted from stimulation of anterior pituitary gland which regulated the stimulation of anterior pituitary gland. However, his ideas received a lot of criticisms from other physiologists. For instance, Walter Cannon suggested that the adrenal medulla and the hormone adrenaline were responsible for the appearance of physiological changes in the body resulting from psychosomatic stimulation (Udupa & Prasad, 1983).

Divergent scholarly views regarding the causes of stress and its related complications served to complicate the studies on the subject of stress during the initial period. Modern researchers have conducted extensive studies on the effects of stress on the hypothalamus. Harris and Hess confirmed that the bodily changes resulting from stress were as a result of stimulation of the hypothalamus which stimulated the anterior pituitary gland to secrete more ACTH which in turn stimulated the adrenal cortex to rid off excess cortisol (Udupa & Prasad, 1983). The Russian schools of Physiology proposed that bodily changes as a result of stress emanated from the cerebral cortex from where the stimuli reached the hypothalamic region through the limbic system to produce changes in the autonomic nervous system as well as neuroendocrine apparatus (Udupa & Prasad, 1983). According to this school of thought, the cerebral cortex gathers environmental stressful stimuli through the sense organs which then converge at the psychic centers in the frontal lobe from where the messages are transmitted to produce specific responses to stressors.

Objective and approach of yoga in stress management

Yoga intervention aims at the preventing the accumulation of stress in the body muscles and seeks to free individuals from stress and stress related indications. The practice further aims at protecting people from multi dimensional stresses by emphasizing on realization of one’s highest potential through yoga’s integrated approach to life resulting from actions that are creative, energetic, and spontaneous. Yoga practice approaches stress management through varying techniques which involve a series of body postures, breathing and meditation techniques which enhance muscle relaxation and release stress (Venkatkrishnan, 2008).

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Yoga advocates for the right to understand through Vedanta which enables the participants to have a realistic understanding of life. Unrealistic approach to life may result in irrational desires, unfounded fears and frustrations that may lead to stress. The practice promotes the attitudes of the tantras which offer participants with the opportunity to develop the right attitudes to deal with the uncertainties and desperations of life hence reducing the chances of stress (Venkatkrishnan, 2008). The president of Integral Yoga institute observed that the use of yoga by individuals to reach higher levels of awareness and well being appeared to be the major determinant of its popularity in the modern world (Yoga Journal, 2000).

Yoga intervention is essential in that it assists the body to rid off accumulated stress, conserves energy through focusing the mental energy to the required ideas and unifies the mind through its numerous postures and breathing exercises (Da Silva, 2009). Yoga has been proven to boost creativity as the activities involved are from the equilibrium state of energy which assists individuals in developing diverse ways of approaching the problems prevalent in daily life. Yoga is associated with joy, peace, fulfillment in life and consequently contributes positively to the welfare of the people and the society at large (Venkatkrishnan, 2008). In most of the studies conducted, yoga appears to reduce stress, anxiety and health disorders relative to other mind based stress management programs (Smith et al, 2007).

Studies have shown that yoga postures significantly increase blood supply in various parts of the body and stimulate body muscles by gently massaging the internal organs (Da Silva, 2009). The posture technique utilizes the force of gravity to further increase blood and oxygen flow into the brain consequently enhancing its ability to perform at optimum levels. Some of the postures such as the shoulder stand increases the blood flow into the thyroid gland and enhance long deep breathing facilitating adequate flow of oxygen in the body which promotes health and releases accumulated tension which reduces stress levels (Smith et al., 2007). In addition, yoga postures aim at increasing the flexibility of the spine which enhances the transmission of stimuli through the nervous system to other tissues and body organs. The postures stretch, relax and release tension accumulation on the muscles which promotes relaxation.

Yoga exercises have been associated with numerous physical, mental, and emotional benefits which play a major role in stress reduction. Physically, the participant’s body experiences natural healing, muscle relaxation and strengthening, stretching and relaxation, which serves to balance the activity of the central nervous system. Consequently, yoga makes the body fit, flexible and strengthens the immune system which serves to protect the body against physical disorders that emanate from psychological and system imbalance. Mentally, the mind cultivates peacefulness, alertness, and increased ability to focus and concentrate. This enhances the individual’s ability to better understand and handle the circumstances and challenges of life leading to a more balanced state of mind (Smith et al., 2007). Emotionally, yoga seeks to free individual mind from anxiety, worry, and tension and further transforms the negative emotions into positive and higher states. Yoga further assists practitioners in developing their empathetic responses facilitating their ability to become compassionate and sensitive to the needs of others.

Mindfulness based stress reduction

Over the recent past, remarkable growth has been achieved in clinical treatment of stress related disorders through programs based on mindfulness meditation and yoga. Since its introduction in1979, over 240 programs have been established across North America (Carlson et al., 2003). Mindfulness based stress reduction techniques are based on contemplative spiritual traditions which seeks to develop conscious awareness among the participants. Through meditation, individuals can focus on their awareness through regulation of breathing which results in relaxation and alertness. Numerous studies have been undertaken to assess the effectiveness of MBSR on treatment of various health problems such as stress and emotional disorders.

An empirical study conducted by Carlson et al. (2003) on the effects of MBSR in individual’s quality of life, moods, and levels of stress among breast and prostate cancer patients revealed that there was significant improvement in the overall quality of life, levels of stress and sleep quality (Carlson et al., 2003). However, no correlation was found to exist between these improvements with the intensity of the programs. In this study, 59 patients with breast cancer and 10 with prostate cancer were engaged in an eight week mindfulness based stress reduction program where they practiced relaxation, gentle yoga, and meditation. The study sought to evaluate the subject’s demographic and health behavior programs, quality of life, mood, stress levels, and the cortisol levels (Carlson et al., 2003). After eight weeks, the results indicated that there was significant reduction in the symptoms of stress among the subjects and improvement in the overall quality of life. No change was evident in the profile of mood states scores among the subjects which was explained by low levels of initial mood disturbance (Carlson et al., 2003). The study further revealed changes in health behavior and improvement in sleep quality exhibited by most cancer patients in the sample.

Yoga and depression treatment

Pilkington et al (not dated), conducted a research to evaluate the effectiveness of yoga in management of depression. Studies conducted by Broota and Dhir on two relaxation techniques, one of which is adopted by yoga practitioners (Broota relaxation) revealed that the yoga based technique was more effective than Jacobson’s progressive technique in the reduction of neurotic and reactive depression (Pilkington et al., n d). Shavasana yoga, which features rhythmic breathing and relaxation, has been proven effective by various studies in stress reduction and depression treatments. In addition, a study conducted by Kumar et al. in 1993 on fifty female university students’ revealed significant reduction in the scores of depression among the yoga participants relative to the control group (Pilkington et al, n d). From these and other numerous studies that we are going to analyze in the research paper, it appears that yoga based interventions play a major role in stress prevention and stress reduction among those who practice it.

Another pilot was conducted by Woolery et al (2004) on the effects of five week Iyenger yoga on the symptoms of depression on a mildly depressed group of young adults. Subjects attending the yoga session were encouraged to practice a wide variety of yoga postures designed to alleviate symptoms of depression and relaxation postures while subjects in the control group were asked to maintain their normal daily routine in absence of yoga or any other mind body program (Woolery et al., 2004). This research revealed that the Iyengar yoga course substantially affected the mood of individuals experiencing mild levels of depression. This study served to confirm the benefits of various postures of yoga in depression alleviation such as opening and lifting the chest, backbends, and standing poses.

Stress management through Yoga therapy

Yoga therapy is a well conceived and described method of relaxation which dates back to over 2500 years ago. Apart from various specific psychotropic drugs which may directly act on the cerebral cortex either to reduce or increase its activity, Yoga is the only non drug method known for restoring the function of the cerebral cortex to normalcy (Udupa & Prasad, 1993). Its unique contribution to stress management is that it directly impacts on the brain especially the psychic center from where all the psychosomatic stress disorders are initiated. Various studies have been conducted in a bid to demonstrate that yogic measures are among the most efficient and scientific methods for management of stress and stress related disorders.

Yoga was successfully used to reduce distress levels among the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami victims (Telles et al., 2007). One month after the tsunami occurrence, victims of the calamity still demonstrated elements of fear, grief, disturbed sleep, and high levels of distress. In response to this, a group of 47 survivors in Andaman Islands were asked to attend yoga sessions in order to evaluate the effect of the exercise on post traumatic stress. Various interventions were conducted on the sample group with the subjects being engaged with Vivikenanda yoga which incorporated techniques which impacted on the physical, emotional, intellectual and even spiritual components of the victims (Telles et al., 2007). These sessions were conducted in small groups on a daily basis and incorporated a wide variety of activities such as physical postures, breath regulation, and yoga based guided relaxation (Telles et al., 2007).

After an eight week intervention, the subject’s levels of distress exhibited through fear, anxiety, grief, and sleep disorders decreased significantly among the subjects who participated in the Vivikenanda yoga intervention (Telles et al, 2007). This was a clear indication of the effectiveness of yoga intervention on the treatment of post traumatic stress. In this study, yoga breathing exercises were proven to reduce the symptoms of emotional distress among people from diverse backgrounds while meditation exercises significantly reduced fear in the patients. In addition, the intervention proved effective in reduction of the intensity if sleep disorders since it was associated with decrease in the time taken to fall asleep, sleep efficiency, and increment of the total time spent sleeping (Telles et al., 2007).

Effects of Iyengar Hatha yoga on stress levels

A study conducted on the effects of Iyengar Hatha yoga on stress and associated psychological disorders in mentally distressed women revealed that yoga significantly reduces the levels of stress and its psychological outcomes (Michalsen et al., 2005). The controlled prospective non randomized study was undertaken on twenty four female subjects who perceived themselves as emotionally distressed. The distressed subjects were provided with opportunities to participate in a three month yoga program during which the subjects had to attend a ninety minute Iyengar yoga class twice in a week (Michalsen et al, 2005). The researchers assessed the outcome of the program by comparing the results achieved after three months to results recorded at the beginning of the program on Cohen Perceived Stress Scale, State-Trait Anxiety inventory, profile of mood states, and CESD-Depression Scale among others.

After attending the yoga sessions, the subjects exhibited significant decline in the levels of stress. The subjects scored higher in psychological parameters such as state and trait anxiety, well being scores and POMS in comparison to the control group. The depressive symptoms also appeared to decline as a result of yoga intervention. At the beginning of the program 94% of the subjects who were to attend the yoga sessions and 75% of those in the control group reported having frequent lower back pains (Michalsen et al, 2005). After attending the yoga sessions, five subjects were able to resolve the back pains whereas no such results were achieved in the control group. In addition, at the entry level, 69% of the subjects in the experiment group complained of frequent headaches while 50 % of those in the control group complained of the same. After the yoga intervention, the headaches completely resolved in 5 subjects in the experimental group and non in the control group (Michalsen et al, 2005).

The changes observed from the study confirmed that Hatha yoga significantly reduces perceived stress and stress related symptoms. Various positive effects observed on the experimental group on their mood, stress levels, and well being may be attributed to various aspects of yoga intervention. Through the vigorous postures conducted in the yoga sessions, participants may have experienced an increased feeling of mastery in their undertaking of various challenging postures. In addition, the participants’ responsibility and commitment to the three hour session as well as the physical effort put in by the subjects for the period of three months enhanced the subject’s development of self control and self efficacy which significantly improved their wellbeing. Further, regular aerobic exercises have proven to be effective in the treatment of depression (Michalsen et al, 2005).

Generally, stress often results in anxiety and depression due to chronic sympathetic activation. Yoga therapy facilitates in the reduction of salivary cortisol concentrations hence its ability to influence the body’s immunity response. Moreover, various studies have confirmed that extensive yoga practice improves indices of cardiac autonomic function which significantly improves the bodily functions. The vigorous postures associated with yoga practice regulate the blood flow and alters endothelial leading to constant nitric oxide production which consequently reduces the stress levels (Michalsen et al, 2005). In addition, yoga induces a relaxation response which significantly reduces cortisol levels and the responsiveness of the sympathetic nervous system which further demonstrates the clinical benefits of Iyengar yoga to individuals suffering from stress and stress related conditions.

According Michelson et al. (2005) study, Iyengar yoga appeared to offer a considerable solution to women suffering from mental distress and the subsequent psychological disorders since it demonstrated remarkable improvements on measures of stress and psychological outcomes on the female subjects who participated in the experiment. However, the researchers acknowledge that further investigation on yoga in relation to prevention and treatment of stress related disorders is still required.

Kundalini Yoga meditation techniques in treatment of psychiatric disorders

Kundalini yoga is commonly known for its meditation techniques which are aimed at treating various psychiatric disorders which emanate from stress. This type of yoga has been proven effective in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, major depressive disorders, insomnia, grief, and dyslexia among other disorders.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is one of the major anxiety disorders which is twice as common as schizophrenia and panic disorder (Shannahoff-Khalsa, 2004). Kundalini yoga utilizes various techniques to facilitate in the prevention and treatment of stress related disorders. The first technique aims at inducing a meditative state on the subject. This exercise gives the subject the experience of a healing energy and is highly recommended as a precursor to the subsequent techniques. The second and the third technique involve spine and shoulder flexing which is essential for vitality.

In treating depression, Kundalini yoga utilizes two meditation techniques either independently or together and has been known to impact greatly on depression and provide rapid recovery from the same (Shannahoff-Khalsa, 2004). One of the techniques involves focusing the mind and eliminating self destructive behavior through meditation to balance the Jupiter and Saturn energies (functional brain regions related to the index and middle finger respectively). This enhances alertness in the individual’s mind as it energizes the brain. The technique is said to improve individual’s intelligence when practiced daily over a period of several months which enables him to effectively adjust to changing life situations. In addition, when the Jupiter and Saturn energies are coordinated, the likelihood of engaging in self destructive behavior is significantly reduced hence the practice assists people in overcoming challenges and reduces the likelihood of stress development (Shannahoff-Khalsa, 2004).

Kundalini yoga emphasizes on meditation in the treatment of depression. Meditation practice is designed to fighting brain fatigue which promotes relaxation. If practiced correctly, the technique has been known to be a powerful remedy to depression. The technique balances the diagram and actively fights brain fatigue. In addition, the exercise renews blood supply to the brain and facilitates the movement of serum in the spine in addition to enhancing the performance of various body organs such as liver, navel point, spleen and lymphatic system leading to overall improvement in the individual’s wellbeing (Shannahoff-Khalsa, 2004). Kundalini yoga is widely used in the treatment of stress causing and stress related disorders. Many people suffer from grief, anger and anxiety in their daily activities which has been known as the major factors in the on set of various range of diseases. The yoga technique has also been successfully applied in dealing with psychological disorders in abused children and adolescents. The method has also been used in anger management, bipolar disorders and multiple complex personalities.

Sudarshan Kriya yoga role in reduction of anxiety among adults

Sudarshan Kriya yoga is a unique yoga practice which was established by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The practice incorporates such practices as meditation and rhythmic breathing exercises and heavily emphasizes on a purely vegetarian diet and interactive discussion training which is essential in developing interpersonal skills. These practices have an overall effect of stress reduction and have proven effective in the treatment of melancholic patients and reduction of blood glucose among diabetic individuals (Agte & Chiplonkar, 2008). Further, SKY also plays a major role in maintenance of health in normally functioning individuals. Sudarshan Kriya yoga (SKY) is an exercise which aims at minimizing stress in the day to day life.

Agte & Chiplonkar (2008) conducted a study on the practice among a group of adults living in Pune India which sought to evaluate the effect of a 2 month SKY exercise on the subjects’ behavior and health. The study involved 37 perceived healthy adult volunteers who underwent a six day course of training in rhythmic breathing, meditation, yogic postures, and interactive discussion for attitude training. The subjects were then engaged in a seven week 30 minutes daily sessions of SKY practice followed by 75 minutes weekly session of SKY (Agte & Chiplonkar, 2008). The researchers used state and trait anxiety scores to measure the subject’s behavioral outcomes. Psychometric assessment was also conducted by use of STAI score, stress scale, and a patience scale.

Average anxiety levels in the beginning of the study were higher in women than were in men. After undergoing two months of SKY practice, the mean anxiety levels for the overall sample significantly declined with much decline being experienced among women. The patience levels increased considerably over the two month period while the stress levels for women reduced by 42.4% which was substantially higher than the decline in stress levels in men which was 10.2 % during the period of the study (Agte & Chiplonkar, 2008). In SKY sessions, participants are expected practice a cyclic breathing process which involves long breaths that are followed by medium and short breaths (Agte & Chiplonkar, 2008). In the study, the researchers confirmed that SKY significantly reduced anxiety levels which translated into stabilization of mental activities consequently reducing stress levels in the subjects. In this view, the researchers concluded that SKY played an important role in promoting healthy lifestyles among the population.

General effects of yoga on mood, anxiety and brain GABA levels

A study was conducted by Streeter et al (2010) on the effects of yoga and exercise and mood and anxiety levels relative to walking. The researchers gathered a group of thirty four healthy subjects who had no records of any psychiatric disorders and were required to either attend yoga sessions or walk for 60 minutes three times a week for a period of twelve weeks (Streeter, 2010). Mood and anxiety levels were assessed at every fourth week and prior magnetic resonance spectroscopy scan. The researchers used The Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV and Structured Clinical Interview for screening and identification of axis 1 disorders. Various psychological scales were used to assess and monitor the effects of both yoga and walking interventions on the mood and anxiety levels of the subjects.

Yoga has been widely used in the reduction of depression, anxiety, and epilepsy symptoms (Streeter, 2010). These disorders are characterized by reduced activity of amino butyric acid (GABA) systems hence respond to pharmacologic agents that increase GABA system activity. In order to quantify GABA, the difference edited spectra were processed and then fitted with an LCModel using basic sets acquired at 4T.

The GEE model which analyzed changes in mood and anxiety levels on the subjects revealed an increment in three EIFI subscale scores by the yoga group over the intervention period in terms of positive engagement, revitalization, and tranquility. On the other hand, the walking group demonstrated an increment only in the EIFI revitalization subscale (Streeter, 2010). In addition, the yoga group showed a decrease in the STAI-State scale which indicated that the subjects experienced decreased levels of anxiety.

The analysis confirmed that the yoga group had greater increases in all the positive tests and greater decreases in all the negative groups in comparison to the walking group which implied improved mood and decreased anxiety and exhaustion among yoga participants. Tonic changes in the mean mood scores shows significant increases in yoga group for revitalization while a significant increment in acute thalamic GABA levels was recorded among the yoga participants. In this study, yoga intervention was associated with greater improvement in mood and decreases in anxiety compared to the walking intervention participants (Streeter, 2010). Consequently, the effects of yoga on mood and anxiety cannot be solely attributed to metabolic demands of the activity. The study confirmed a positive relationship between thalamic GABA levels and improved mood or decreased anxiety and demonstrated the effectiveness of behavioral intervention (yoga) on GABA levels regulation which positively impacts on mood and anxiety. The effect of yoga intervention on GABA levels was attributed to the ability of yoga exercises to increase activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (Streeter, 2010).

Yoga based stress management among workers

Vempati and Telles conducted an extensive empirical study on the effects of yoga based intervention on 26 asymptomatic male employees at the management level in an electronic goods company. The study was highly influenced by the fact that work related psychosocial stressors have become widely known to result in psychological, behavioral and emotional dysfunction. The scholars evaluated the initial stress index and other autonomic parameters in order to establish the effects of yoga based intervention on the subjects (Vempati & Teller, n d). The middle aged male volunteers attended a two day workshop on tension release via yoga intervention. At the end of the two day workshop, the subjects exhibited reduced breath rates and no other change was experienced. No specific reduction in physiological stress was observed in this empirical study.

However, subjects who had exhibited higher that average levels of occupational stress index experienced alterations in the high and low frequency components of heart rate variability spectrum (Vempati & Teller, n d). While the low frequency component corresponds to sympathetic activity, the high frequency component corresponds to the vago-sympathetic activity. Consequently, subjects with higher occupational stress index demonstrated reduction in the sympathetic activity following the two day program. The results therefore confirmed that the two day yoga based stress management program facilitated the reduction of sympathetic activity among the subjects which in turn reduced the levels of stress.

Criticisms against yoga as a stress management tool

In his book Yoga American style, Prakash Prem criticizes the use of yoga as a technique to reduce stress. According to him yoga beginners are usually optimistic that the intervention will automatically result in improved health and comfort. However, the sessions only serve to unveil the extent to which these participants’ lives are chaotic and disappointing. According to Prakash (2009), yoga, being a true spiritual discipline uncovers the participant’s escapism to life’s frustrations rendering them more vulnerable to stress and its related disorders. Relaxing the mind and pretending that everything is okay does not actually solve the frustrations and disappointments in life.

Yoga’s philosophic and religious overtones do not always appeal to some clients (Cotton, 1990). The ancient spiritual discipline was centered on doctrines that proved incompatible with the Christian perception of God. For instance, the widely popular Hatha was understood in the ancient times as the attempt to reach union with God. Yoga teachings emphasize on the believe that everything inclusive of man, is God while Christians hold that God is the creator with man being one of his creations which further served to widen the gap between Christianity and yogis (Gleghorn, 2002). Conservative religions criticize various forms of yoga such as Hatha yoga which is widely known for its physical nature. According to them, although it is not apparent at the beginning, the role of hatha yoga, just like any other form of yoga is to establish the union between self and the impersonal consciousness which goes against the teachings of the Bible and other religious teachings (Gleghorn, 2002).

Despite its proven effectiveness in stress reduction, yoga if not properly practiced may result in negative implications on physical, spiritual and mental health of the participant (Gleghorn, 2002). Ineffective practice in the yoga breathing exercises may result in injury to the participant’s brain. Practicing these exercises without proper supervision has been said to lead to a kind of disease that is not treatable through clinical procedures. Yoga practice has also been claimed to endanger the participant’s sanity (Gleghorn, 2002) with various experiences narrated by some yogis confirming that the process of awakening is associated with pain, obsession, and may lead to psychotic symptoms.

The future of Yoga and stress management in western world

Currently, yoga is commonly known for its poses and relaxation effects and the spiritual component of using the body as an avenue for spiritual awakening has diminished in most parts of the world. Hatha yoga has especially gained world wide popularity in America due to its postures and exercises which are associated with improved health (Yoga journal, 2000). This has been received with harsh criticisms by Indian conservatives who felt that this was disorienting the original spiritual goals of classical yoga. Adoption of yoga intervention in the West has been associated with numerous challenges emanating from culture conflict between American secular culture and the Indian spiritual culture. The fundamental basics of yoga initially lay in spiritual and holistic living. However, the western culture has ignored these basics in their process of accommodating the cultural perceptions about the nature of healing (Tiwari & Douglass, 2008). Indeed, yoga in American society is being promoted as a means to health, wealth and comfort.

Yoga has been extensively used in the west in most clinical procedures and has gained widespread popularity due to its proven effectiveness in stress prevention and reduction. Contemporary yoga therapists are incorporating various elements of classical yoga such as language to modern yoga intervention. However, modern yoga is increasingly becoming scientifically oriented with most of its techniques being specifically applied to treat specific clinical indications (Tiwari & Douglass, 2008). The future of stress management through yoga intervention is dependent on extensive development and advancement of yoga as a clinical method. This involves increased research and forums where yoga specialists can collaborate, advance, and educate the public on the importance of yoga in managing stress (Gamer, 2008).

Yoga scholars confirm that postures and practices have evolved and advanced over time to meet the needs of modern participants. Indeed, most of the postures now widely used in the modern yoga sessions are not incorporated in the ancient texts (Cushman, 1999). Modern yoga postures have been designed to emphasize on physical fitness and therapeutic affects most of which result in body relaxation and stress release. It seeks to acquire the participant’s full dedication to a particular task while fully understanding that the particular pose is irrelevant which establishes a connection between the participant’s body and nature hence reducing stress. Transformation of yoga towards modern basics is important in the development of methods of stress management. However, this is not to say that honoring tradition is not important. It is also important for yoga therapists to maintain some of the classical objectives of yoga such as the quest for awakening since it have an overall effect of improving individual’s welfare which significantly reduces incidences of stress (Cushman 1999).

Yoga and healthy lifestyles

In the modern world, yoga has assumed a vital role in mental health improvement as well as improvement in the quality of life due to its effectiveness in the treatment of various psychiatric and psychosomatic disorders (Sharma et al., 2008). With various techniques of approaching life being devised, yoga has been widely adopted to promote fitness, comfort and relaxation which have served to promote health and wellbeing of its practitioners (Sharma et al., 2008).

Yoga interventions can be evaluated both in clinical and social sense (Lafaille, 1997). A study conducted on yoga practitioners in a sample population in Netherlands confirmed that yoga was mainly practiced by middle aged women and the drop out rates were also high among the same age group. The practice was found to be most common among the social middle class who were grouped according to their profession, level of education as well as the area of residence. The study further revealed that relaxation and body exercises were the major priorities of yoga practice which was followed by meditation, awareness of inner experiences and healthy diet (Lafaille, 1997). The data derived from the study revealed that the number of psychosomatic illnesses and complaints reduced during the first year of practicing yoga by the subjects with a significant portion of the subjects reporting reduction in the number of psychological illnesses. The study also revealed evidence of significant changes in health status of individuals with the main changes being exhibited in the psychosomatic field (Lafaille, 1997).

Conclusion

We live in a world of crisis. People in the contemporary society find themselves in crisis regarding character and discipline, faith, and finances which serve to further complicate life. These hardships elicit stressful stimuli to the body which when experienced on a constant basis may lead to detrimental effects on the overall health and well being of an individual. Stress has therefore become one of the major health concerns of the modern world. Scientists has developed numerous methods ranging from clinical to behavioral based processes in an attempt to prevent stress and stress related disorders which have become very common in the modern age.

Mindfulness based stress management programs have become especially popular in the world due to their proven natural effectiveness and their relatively lower cost. Yoga, an ancient Indian religious discipline which originally aimed at developing a connection between self and the impersonal component of nature has been widely adopted in the western and other secular cultures as a means of relaxation and promotion of good health. Although the technique has been received by a lot of criticism from the conservatives and varying religious groups, it has achieved remarkable success in reducing stress levels in various groups of people as well as improving their well being explains its popularity especially in the Western world.

Yoga has been proven to effectively reduce stress levels through various empirical studies. According to research, yoga intervention has been used to effectively manage depression through its rhythmic breath regulation exercises. Kundalini yoga has proven effective in alleviating fear among cancer patients and treatment of other psychiatric disorders through its meditation exercises. Sudarshan Kriya yoga has been proven to successfully treat anxiety through its emphasis on breath regulation exercises, meditation and vegetarian diet while Hatha yoga, commonly known for its physical exercises and postures has been found to reduce stress levels of stress and improve mood among its practitioners.

Critics of yoga technique as a stress management tool claim that the exercise only serves to temporarily solve dilute the subject’s problems and fails to provide a long term solution to the real issues that often cause stress to the individual. The critics further claim that the practice is incompatible with various religious and cultural orientations of the modern secular world due to its deep rooted spiritual orientation. However, yoga practice has been widely adopted in the Western culture which has edited out the spiritual component of yoga and emphasized more on the physical and clinical importance of yoga. Currently, yoga has emerged as a way of life and it is associated with improved health conditions and social status in the western society with most of its practitioners falling in the middle social class.

The future of yoga in the western world appears to be promising. The practice has been incorporated in various clinical and therapeutic procedures and has become widely accepted means of relieving stress and achieving relaxation. Since its postures and meditation exercises have proven effective in boosting the body’s immune system and reducing the levels of stress causing hormones, modern yoga instructors continue to emphasize on these exercise during the yoga sessions which has served to increase the number of people in preference of yoga intervention as a stress management technique.

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