Effect of Practicing Meditation, Pranayama, and Yoga on the Mental Health of Female Undergraduate Medical Students: An Interventional Study

Cureus. 2022 Sep 7;14(9):e28915. doi: 10.7759/cureus.28915. eCollection 2022 Sep.


Background Medical education is a rigorous formal education with a vast syllabus. Burnout and stresses are common among medical students and more prominent in females. Female medical students suffer from a higher level of stress than male medical students. For the improvement of physical and mental health, meditation, pranayama, and yoga are some of the ancient techniques. Meditation is a technique of focusing the mind on a target like an object, activity, or any thought. Pranayama is an ancient yogic practice focusing on the breath. Yoga is a combination of physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions that has the potential to improve mental and physical health. Objective This study aimed to find the effect of meditation, pranayama, and yoga on the improvement of mental health among female undergraduate medical students. Materials and methods This was an interventional study. A total of 105 females with a median age of 19 years (first quartile - third quartile: 18-20) first-year undergraduate medical students were recruited for this study. They were randomly allocated to control, meditation, pranayama, and yoga groups. The control group did not practice any form of meditation, pranayama, or yoga. The rest of the group practiced a designated program for their group, six days a week for 12 weeks. The anxiety, depression, anger, and sense of well-being were assessed by a validated self-administered questionnaire developed by the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, New Delhi before starting the study, at six weeks, and at 12 weeks after the intervention. Inter-group levels of anxiety, depression, anger, and well-being were compared by the Kruskal-Wallis test with Dunn's posthoc test. Intra-group parameters at baseline, at six weeks, and at 12 weeks after the intervention was tested by Friedman's test. Result The age (years) (p = 0.07), height (cm) (p = 0.98), and weight (kg) (p = 0.26) of participants among groups were similar. Anxiety, depression, and anger significantly decreased after six weeks in all three intervention groups. A further decrement was seen after 12 weeks of meditation, pranayama, and yoga. The maximum effect was seen in the yoga group. A sense of well-being was improved after practicing all types of interventions. However, meditation was found to increase a sense of well-being to the highest level compared to pranayama and yoga. Conclusion Introduction and sustainment of meditation, pranayama, and yoga programs for first-year female undergraduate medical students may help reduce anxiety, depression, and anger and promote a sense of well-being. Although a six-week program helps to improve mental health, a 12-week program helps in further improvement. A yoga program is more effective for improving the mental health of the students in comparison with pranayama and meditation.

Keywords: anger; anxiety; depression; female students; medical student; meditation; mental health; psychological burnout; yoga; academic stress.