Background and objectives: Practices that include yoga asanas and mindfulness-based stress reduction for the management of stress are increasingly popular; however, the neurobiological effects of these practices on stress reactivity are not well understood. Many studies investigating the effects of such practices fail to include an active control group. Given the frequency with which people are selecting such interventions as a form of self-management, it is important to determine their effectiveness. Thus, this review investigates the effects of practices that include yoga asanas, with and without mindfulness-based stress reduction, compared to an active control, on physiological markers of stress.
Materials and methods: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials published in English compared practices that included yoga asanas, with and without mindfulness-based stress reduction, to an active control, on stress-related physiological measures. The review focused on studies that measured physiological parameters such as blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol and peripheral cytokine expression. MEDLINE, AMED, CINAHL, PsycINFO, SocINDEX, PubMed, and Scopus were searched in May 2016 and updated in December 2016. Randomised controlled trials were included if they assessed at least one of the following outcomes: heart rate, blood pressure, heart rate variability, mean arterial pressure, C-reactive protein, interleukins or cortisol. Risk of bias assessments included sequence generation, allocation concealment, blinding of assessors, incomplete outcome data, selective outcome reporting and other sources of bias. Meta-analysis was undertaken using Comprehensive Meta-Analysis Software Version 3. Sensitivity analyses were performed using 'one-study-removed' analysis. Subgroup analysis was conducted for different yoga and control group types, including mindfulness-based stress reduction versus non-mindfulness-based stress reduction based interventions, different populations, length of intervention, and method of data analysis. A random-effects model was used in all analyses.
Results: Forty two studies were included in the meta-analysis. Interventions that included yoga asanas were associated with reduced evening cortisol, waking cortisol, ambulatory systolic blood pressure, resting heart rate, high frequency heart rate variability, fasting blood glucose, cholesterol and low density lipoprotein, compared to active control. However, the reported interventions were heterogeneous.
Conclusions: Practices that include yoga asanas appear to be associated with improved regulation of the sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system in various populations.
Keywords: Exercise; Inflammation; Mindfulness-based stress reduction; Stress; Yoga.
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