Can Yoga Help Young Adults Manage Stress?


November 23, 2021     benefits of yoga | Yoga Research

Weekly yoga sessions helped young adults balance their nervous system

Research Study At A Glance

The Research Question Asked

Can yoga help young adults manage stress by regulating their autonomic nervous system?

Type of Study

Non-randomized pilot study with an active control group

Study Participants (Sample)

  • Sample size: 92 total participants
  • 53% female; 47% male
  • Mean age of participants was 19.6 ± 2.22 years

Methods

Participants completed 10 weeks of either a regular once-per-week school sports class or a yoga session. The research team took electrocardiogram recordings before and after the 10-week program completed. They then calculated various indices of heart rate variability to interpret the state of participants’ autonomic nervous systems before and after the 10-week study.

Results

Most of the measures used showed that heart rate variability was significantly improved from before to after the yoga treatment.

Conclusion

Yoga contributed to balancing the autonomic nervous systems of young adult practitioners. It is one tool for healthy stress management.

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Background

Stress is an ever-present experience as part of living in the world. Just as we learn other life skills, it’s important for us to learn to manage stress in a healthy way. Ideally, that learning process starts when we are young. Habits we learn when we are growing up often carry forward into our adult years. So finding healthy tools for managing stress early can help prevent unhealthy patterns later.

One tool that has been helpful for managing stress is yoga. There is limited research on the effects of yoga on adolescents. But in previous research, yoga reduced anxiety and tension. Yoga improved attention, memory, self-esteem, and emotional stability. The research team on this study was interested in learning whether yoga could help adolescents manage stress.

Research question

Can yoga help young adults manage stress by regulating their autonomic nervous system?

Research methods

Study participants (sample):

  • 92 total participants, with 86 completing the whole treatment
  • 53% of sample was female
  • Mean age of participants was 19.6 ± 2.22 years

The study took place over 10 weeks. Six school sports classes (that’s gym class for US readers) participated in the research study. Three of those classes continued holding their regular school sports class. Those classes were the control group. The other three classes hosted a yoga session for the students instead of the sports class. There were 49 participants in the yoga group and 37 people in the control group who completed the whole 10 weeks.

Both the yoga sessions and the regular school sports classes were 90 minutes each. And both took place once per week. The yoga sessions incorporated postures, breathing, relaxation, and meditation. Yoga instructors with at least 20 years of teaching experience taught the yoga sessions during the study.

Measurements

In order to find out whether the yoga sessions were helping to balance the nervous systems of the students, the researchers calculated various indices of heart rate variability (HRV). Heart rate variability describes the small variation in time between heartbeats (measured in milliseconds). Heart rate variability is one way to describe the state of our autonomic nervous system. The researchers used a variety of methods to calculate aspects of HRV. One of the main measurements that the research team took was electrocardiogram (ECG) recordings before and after participants completed the 10-week yoga program. The researchers took ECG readings from a smaller subset of the whole sample. They took readings from 14 yoga participants and 11 people from the sports control group. The mean age of the smaller subset was 19.9 ± 4.04 years old.

The researchers then used the ECG recordings to do ten different types of calculations to look at aspects of heart rate variability. The specifics of the calculations that they did are well beyond this article. If you are interested in learning more about them, check out the research article linked at the bottom of this post.

Results

There were positive effects on HRV as measured by the various indices for both the yoga sessions and the sports classes, when comparing before and after the classes. The effects were stronger for the yoga group. Additionally, most of the indices showed that the various aspects of heart rate variability were better in the yoga group when compared to the sports control group.

Why is this relevant to yoga practitioners?

Stress reduction is one of the common reasons why practitioners seek out a yoga practice. And stress is not unique to just those over the age of 25. Stress is something that young adults have to manage as well. Even school itself can be stressful. So it’s important for young adults to be exposed to many options for managing that stress. Past research shows that yoga is one tool to help manage stress in adult populations. This study indicates that yoga can help young adults manage stress too. For those yoga teachers who enjoy working with younger student populations, sharing yoga can benefit them now and through the rest of their life.

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Conclusion

Daily life can be stressful for the younger population just as it is for adults. This research shows that yoga improved autonomic nervous system balance for young adults. And that suggests that yoga is a healthy way to manage stress.

Reference citation

Frank, J., G. Seifert, R. Schroeder, B. Gruhn, W. Stritter, M. Jeitler, N. Steckhan, C. S. Kessler, A. Michalsen, A. Voss. 2020. Yoga in school sports improves functioning of autonomic nervous system in young adults: A non-randomized controlled pilot study. PLoS ONE 15(4): e0231299. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0231299.

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