How Do Different Styles Of Yoga Affect Stress?


February 8, 2022     benefits of yoga | Yoga Research

A comparison of how Hatha and vinyasa yoga affect stress

Research Study At A Glance

The Research Question Asked

Do Hatha and vinyasa yoga affect stress differently?

Type of Study

Pilot study with randomized pre-test/post-test design

Study Participants (Sample)

  • Sample size: 13 total participants
  • Healthy, physically active
  • All female
  • No regular yoga practice

Methods

All participants completed both a 30-minute Hatha yoga and a vinyasa yoga session. The two yoga sessions took place 48 hours apart. Study participants completed the anxiety portion of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) scale and provided a saliva sample before and after each yoga session. Researchers used the psychological scale results and calculated salivary cortisol levels to compare the effects of Hatha yoga and vinyasa yoga on stress.

Results

Both STAI scores and salivary cortisol levels were lower after the Hatha yoga session than before.

Conclusion

Hatha yoga has some immediate positive effects on stress reduction, but vinyasa yoga did not affect stress.

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Background

Stress is a widespread issue that we nearly all deal with. Chronic stress can have negative consequences for our health. The impacts of stress on our health can be physical, like changes to our blood pressure or immune response. The impacts can also be psychological and increase our likelihood of experiencing things like anxiety and depression. There are many reasons why we might want to manage our stress.

Yoga is one tool that has been suggested for stress management. However, there is considerable variability from one yoga style to another. Little is known about how the impacts on stress differ between yoga styles. For that reason, this research team chose to explore how both Hatha and vinyasa yoga affect stress levels.

Research question

Do Hatha and vinyasa yoga affect stress differently?

Research methods

  • Study participants (sample): 13 total participants
  • Healthy, physically active
  • All female
  • No regular yoga practice

All study participants participated in both a Hatha yoga treatment and a vinyasa-style yoga treatment. Yoga sessions took place between 10am and noon, with the second session taking place 48 hours after the first one. The Hatha yoga treatment consisted of completing 30 minutes of the stress relief and flexibility portion of a yoga DVD program. The program researchers used was the Element – The Mind & Body Experience DVD series. The vinyasa-style yoga treatment consisted of completing 30 minutes of the power yoga portion of the same DVD program.

All participants completed the state anxiety portion of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory scale before and after each yoga session. Participants also provided saliva samples before and after each yoga session. The researchers used the saliva samples to measure salivary cortisol levels before and after each type of yoga. These two different types of tests allowed the researchers to evaluate how yoga might affect stress psychologically and physiologically.

Results

  • State-Trait Anxiety Inventory scale (STAI) scores were lower post-yoga when compared to pre-yoga for the Hatha yoga treatment.
  • Salivary cortisol levels were also lower post-yoga when compared to pre-yoga for the Hatha yoga treatment.
  • There were no differences between before and after yoga for the vinyasa yoga treatment for either the STAI scores or salivary cortisol levels.
  • There were no differences in the pre-yoga STAI scores or salivary cortisol levels between the two groups.

Why is this relevant to yoga practitioners?

If one style of yoga practice was more effective at managing stress, then that would help practitioners, as well as other wellness professionals, guide people in choosing the best practice for them. In this research study, the Hatha yoga session reduced stress, but the vinyasa yoga session did not affect stress. This study was only a small pilot study, however. So, researchers need to do further study to find out why the particular Hatha session that participants experienced had a different effect than the vinyasa session.

Interestingly, as noted in the discussion section of this research paper, Hatha yoga reduced stress for healthy, active individuals. This is interesting because so much of the previous research on yoga and stress has looked at the effects of yoga on the stress of those experiencing more severe stress levels, such as those with clinical anxiety. This pilot study suggests that in addition to those who experience high levels of stress, yoga could potentially benefit those not specifically struggling with stress-related issues too.

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Conclusion

Studies have consistently shown that yoga can help reduce the symptoms of stress. However, there are many different styles of yoga. As researchers dive deeper into trying to understand how yoga works, they have been looking closer at the potential different benefits of different styles of yoga. The study summarized here examined differences between the effects of Hatha yoga and vinyasa yoga on stress.

Reference citation

Marshall, M., M. McClanahan, S. McArthur Warren, R. Rogers, and C. Ballmann. 2020. A Comparison of the Acute Effects of Different Forms of Yoga on Physiological and Psychological Stress: A Pilot Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 17:8pgs. doi:10.3390/ijerph17176090

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