Stress Reduction by Yoga versus Mindfulness Training in Adults Suffering from Distress: A Three-Armed Randomized Controlled Trial including Qualitative Interviews (RELAX Study)

J Clin Med. 2022 Sep 26;11(19):5680. doi: 10.3390/jcm11195680.


Distress is a growing public health concern. In this three-armed randomized controlled trial, n = 102 adults with elevated stress levels and stress-related symptoms were randomly assigned to (1) “integrative” yoga classes which combined physical exercises, mindfulness training, and ethical/philosophical aspects of traditional yoga; to (2) Iyengar yoga classes which entailed primarily physical exercises; or to (3) mindfulness training without physical training. We hypothesized the synergistic effects of physical yoga exercises, mindfulness, and ethical/philosophical aspects. The primary outcome was the group difference on Cohen’s Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) after 12 weeks. Secondary outcomes included burnout, quality of life, physical complaints, depression, anxiety, mindfulness, interoceptive awareness, self-regulation, spirituality, mysticism, and posttraumatic stress. All outcomes were evaluated at baseline (V0), after 12 weeks (V1), and after 24 weeks (V2). A subset of participants took part in qualitative interviews. A lasting and clinically relevant stress reduction was observed within all groups (PSS ΔV0−V1Integrative Yoga = −6.69 ± 6.19; ΔV0−V1Iyengar Yoga = −6.00 ± 7.37; ΔV0−V1Mindfulness = −9.74 ± 7.80; all p < 0.00). Effect sizes were also statistically large at the end of the follow-up period (Cohen’s d Integrative Yoga = 1.41; d Iyengar Yoga = 1.37; d Mindfulness = 1.23). There were no significant group differences or evidence of relevant synergistic effects from combining mindfulness and physical yoga exercises. All three interventions were found to be equally effective methods of stress reduction. Their use in practice should be based on availability and patient preference.

Keywords: iyengar yoga; meditation; mindfulness; mixed methods; stress reduction; yoga.