Can Yoga Help An Antarctic Expedition Team Manage Stress?


May 18, 2021     benefits of yoga | Yoga Research

Indian researchers designed a yoga session to manage stress for Antarctic explorers

Research Study At A Glance

The Research Question Asked

Can yoga help manage the physical and mental stress experienced by Antarctic expeditioners?

Type of Study

Preliminary study

Methods

The research team evaluated practices from classical yoga texts in order to design a 1-hour yoga module to manage physical and mental stress for an Antarctic expedition team. They included practices in the module that addressed the specific types of stress experienced by those on remote expeditions. A panel of yoga experts evaluated the usefulness of the individual practices in the yoga module.

Results

A majority of the yoga experts agreed on the suggested 1-hour yoga module designed by the research team to manage stress. The final yoga module included slow moving asanas with breath awareness, sun salutations, pranayama, relaxation, and nadanusandhana meditation.

Conclusion

A panel of yoga experts agreed on a final 1-hour yoga session intended to manage the stress experienced by research teams on remote expeditions. In the next phase of the research project, the expeditioners will put the yoga session into practice and evaluate its effects.

Background

Yoga has been used as a treatment in clinical studies for many types of diseases and disorders. One area where yoga has had a positive effect is on stress reduction. In addition to reducing overall stress levels, clinical studies have shown that yoga helped people manage their symptoms of stress. Managing many types and sources of stressors is important for the health of science teams who conduct expeditions to remote locations, such as the Antarctic.

Expeditioners to many environments experience mental and emotional stressors such as isolation and danger. Those who are exploring the Antarctic also have to cope with an environment that includes physical stressors such as extreme cold. As a result of the isolation and extreme conditions, expeditioners have reported a range of symptoms of stress such as mood swings, depression, and decreased immune system responsiveness.

Health care services are not easily available while on expedition due to the remoteness of the locations. So, there is an interest in using all available tools to keep expeditioners as healthy as possible. Healthy expeditioners can function better at their work and are less likely to need emergency services. Other health and wellness services have been used previously, such as counselling, medications, and dietary advice, to support scientists on remote expeditions. However, yoga has not yet been evaluated for its potential to support the health and manage the stress of researchers on an expedition. This study was the first part of a larger study to evaluate the usefulness of yoga practices for expeditioners’ health and wellbeing while working at remote locations.

Research question

Can yoga help manage the physical and mental stress experienced by Antarctic expeditioners?

Research methods

The research team designed a yoga module to manage stress based on yoga practices described in traditional yoga texts including:

  • Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
  • Hatha Yoga Pradipika
  • Shiva Samhita
  • Gheranda Samhita
  • Hatha Rathnavali
  • Bhagavad Gita
  • Upanishads
  • Yoga Vashishta
  • Yogic Sukshma Vyayama

Yoga techniques to manage stress

Yoga techniques were evaluated for their usefulness in addressing four areas of health that were most relevant to the stresses experienced by expeditioners. Those target areas of health included:

Yoga techniques covered in these texts were not considered for inclusion in the yoga module if:

  • They would be impractical for expeditioners to do
  • They were contraindicated for specific disorders (like hypertension or cardiovascular disease)
  • It was difficult to validate the posture or practice described in the text

After evaluating practices described in traditional yoga texts, the research team designed a 1-hour yoga module to manage stress that included the following:

Expert evaluation

The research team solicited experts in the field of yoga to evaluate the yoga module for its usefulness for the intended purposes. The yoga experts were selected based on meeting any of the following conditions:

  • Post-graduate medical degree in yoga therapy from either an allopathic or Ayurvedic school
  • Researcher with a doctoral degree in yoga
  • Yoga and naturopathic physician with more than 7 years’ clinical experience
  • Selected yoga experts were between 32 and 50 years old and had from 8 to 26 years’ yoga experience.

Once selected, the yoga experts rated the yoga module on its usefulness on a scale of 1-5, with 1 = not at all useful and 5 = extremely useful. They calculated a content validity ratio to evaluate specific yoga practices suggested for the module. They also rated the overall yoga module and the duration of the yoga module (suggested at 1 hour) with either a yes or no.

Results

Thirty yoga experts agreed to rate the yoga module submitted by the research team. The yoga experts generally agreed that the yoga module designed by the research team met the team’s goals to manage stress. They rated it with a content validity ratio of 0.89 (out of a total of 1.0). The experts also agreed on the duration of the yoga module at 1 hour.

A majority of the experts agreed on including the following specific yoga practices in the yoga module:

The experts recommended that the research team not include the yoga practice, viparita karani.

Why is this relevant to yoga practitioners?

While most of us are not scientists headed out to remote areas of the Antarctic on an expedition, we all experience stress. We likely even experience some of the same triggers of stress as the scientists on expedition, but from different sources. We’ve probably all experienced the stress of feeling isolated at some point. Maybe we’ve felt isolated when moving to a new town where we don’t know anyone or when starting a new school. Certainly many people reported a sense of isolation during the recent pandemic. Isolation from familiar routines and a regular support system of friends and family can cause stress.

Yoga can help manage our stress

This research team designed their yoga module to manage the kind of stress that we might all experience from isolation and from conducting work in challenging environments. The first step in their research was to have the yoga session evaluated by independent yoga experts. If in further evaluation they confirm that they have successfully developed a yoga session which reduces the stresses experienced by expeditioners, we can all potentially benefit from that knowledge.

Conclusion

While most of us will never visit, let alone conduct our work in, the Antarctic, stress is something we all experience. Understanding more about how yoga practices can help us manage stress is not just something that’s relevant to Antarctic expeditioners. Just imagine how helpful yoga practices can be to those of us experiencing regular mundane stress if those same practices are effective at reducing stress in an environment as extreme as the Antarctic!

Reference citation

Balakrishnan, R., R.M. Nanjundaiah, M. Nirwan, M.K. Sharma, L. Ganju, M. Saha, S.B. Singh, and N.H. Ramarao. 2020. Design and validation of integrated yoga therapy module for Antarctic expeditioners. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine. 11:97-100.

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