A single session of hatha yoga improves stress reactivity and recovery after an acute psychological stress task-A counterbalanced, randomized-crossover trial in healthy individuals

Complement Ther Med. 2017 Dec:35:120-126. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2017.10.009. Epub 2017 Oct 31.


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.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Blood Pressure
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Exercise / psychology
  • Female
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Male
  • Meditation / psychology*
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*
  • Yoga / psychology*
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone