Background: Emotional distress is an increasing public health problem and Hatha yoga has been claimed to induce stress reduction and empowerment in practicing subjects. We aimed to evaluate potential effects of Iyengar Hatha yoga on perceived stress and associated psychological outcomes in mentally distressed women.
Material/methods: A controlled prospective non-randomized study was conducted in 24 self-referred female subjects (mean age 37.9+/-7.3 years) who perceived themselves as emotionally distressed. Subjects were offered participation in one of two subsequential 3-months yoga programs. Group 1 (n=16) participated in the first class, group 2 (n=8) served as a waiting list control. During the yoga course, subjects attended two-weekly 90-min Iyengar yoga classes. Outcome was assessed on entry and after 3 months by Cohen Perceived Stress Scale, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, Profile of Mood States, CESD-Depression Scale, Bf-S/Bf-S' Well-Being Scales, Freiburg Complaint List and ratings of physical well-being. Salivary cortisol levels were measured before and after an evening yoga class in a second sample.
Results: Compared to waiting-list, women who participated in the yoga-training demonstrated pronounced and significant improvements in perceived stress (P<0.02), State and Trait Anxiety (P<0.02 and P<0.01, respectively), well-being (P<0.01), vigor (P<0.02), fatigue (P<0.02) and depression (P<0.05). Physical well-being also increased (P<0.01), and those subjects suffering from headache or back pain reported marked pain relief. Salivary cortisol decreased significantly after participation in a yoga class (P<0.05).
Conclusions: Women suffering from mental distress participating in a 3-month Iyengar yoga class show significant improvements on measures of stress and psychological outcomes. Further investigation of yoga with respect to prevention and treatment of stress-related disease and of underlying mechanism is warranted.