Objectives: Yoga is promoted as an anti-stress activity, however, little is known about the mechanisms through which it acts. The present study investigated the acute effects of a hatha yoga session, displayed on a video, on the response to and recovery from an acute psychological stressor.
Methods: Twenty-four healthy young adults took part in a counterbalanced, randomized-crossover trial, with a yoga and a control condition (watching TV). Participants attended the laboratory in the afternoon on two days and each session comprised a baseline, control or yoga task, stress task and recovery. Blood pressure (BP), heart rate (HR) and salivary cortisol responses were measured. State cognitive- and somatic-anxiety along with self-confidence were assessed before and after the stressor.
Results: Although no difference in the BP or HR responses to stress were found between conditions, systolic BP (p=0.047) and diastolic BP (p=0.018) recovery from stress were significantly accelerated and salivary cortisol reactivity was significantly lower (p=0.01) in the yoga condition. A yoga session also increased self-confidence (p=0.006) in preparation for the task and after completion. Moreover, self-confidence reported after the stress task was considered debilitative towards performance in the control condition, but remained facilitative in the yoga condition.
Conclusion: Our results show that a single video-instructed session of hatha yoga was able to improve stress reactivity and recovery from an acute stress task in healthy individuals. These positive preliminary findings encourage further investigation in at-risk populations in which the magnitude of effects may be greater, and support the use of yoga for stress reactivity and recovery.
Keywords: Acute stress; Blood pressure; Cortisol; Meditation; Self-confidence.
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