As little as one session of yoga can be enough to improve mental health and reduce the physiological effects of stress, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Health Psychology.
Long term yoga practice is well known to reduce stress and improve mental well-being. However, little research has investigated the beneficial (or not) effects of short term yoga practice. Both mental and physiological stress are part of everyday life, but extremely high stress levels can disrupt homeostasis in the body and lead to a negative impact on an individual’s physical and mental well-being. Physical and mental stress activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which leads to an increase in the release of the body’s stress hormone, cortisol. Prolonged exposure to cortisol can result in a lowered immune system, insomnia and depression.
Recent studies have indicated that stress levels among millennials are increasing year on year. One subpopulation of millennials that consistently report higher levels of recent or prolonged stress and feelings of depression are female college-age students. Common stressors among this age group are academic demands, becoming newly independent and financial responsibilities.
Until recently, very little research had studied the effects of high and low intensity yoga. The study lead by Molly Sullivan (Elon University) investigated the effect of lower intensity stretch yoga and higher intensity power yoga on the body’s stress response and mental well-being. Thirty-three female participants between the age of 18-30 took part in 1 hour sessions of power or stretch yoga. Salivary cortisol levels were measured before, during and after each yoga session.
The results showed that participants found power yoga to be the most pleasurable and energizing. However, there was a significant decrease in salivary cortisol levels after both types of yoga. Overall, the results suggest that even one session of power or stretch yoga can be effective at decreasing stress and would therefore be an effective way for college age females to improve both physiological and psychological well-being.