GUEST POST: Judy Lovas
In the last 10 years, there’s been a rapid and exciting rise of scientific research in yoga and mindfulness meditation. Today, studies demonstrate that non-invasive practices such as yoga can reduce anxiety, stress, depressive symptoms and sleep disorders. This is important since in 2014-15, nearly 12% or 2.1 million Australians aged 18 years and over experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress (ABS, National Health Survey: 2014-2015).
Research provides evidence-based benefits of relaxation, yoga and meditation and offers health professionals greater knowledge and confidence in their practice and teaching.
Randomised, controlled trials (RCT) are the gold standard of research and a recent RCT investigated effects of mindfulness on sleep quality in older adults with moderate sleep disturbances (Black et al, 2015). The study compared a mindful awareness practice (MAP) with sleep hygiene education (SHE) for 2 hours a week over 6 weeks. Participants in both groups completed a sleep quality self-assessment. The MAP group showed significant improvements in fatigue and symptoms of insomnia and depression compared to the group that received standard sleep hygiene care. These results support the introduction and clinical implementation of non-invasive, cost-effective interventions such as mindfulness meditation and yoga to improve moderate sleep disturbances in older adults.
An Australian RCT studied the effects of yoga on mild to moderate levels of stress and anxiety after 10 weekly 1 hour sessions (Smith et al, 2007). Valid questionnaires about health and personality were used to compare a yoga group with a relaxation group. After 10 weeks, both groups demonstrated improved levels of stress, anxiety and quality of life. This study supports previous research that yoga can be effective in reducing anxiety, stress and increasing physical and mental health as well as sleep dysfunctions.
A review of studies (Li et al 2012) revealed that yoga may relieve stress and anxiety, but further investigations are necessary before recommending yoga as a treatment option. Conversely, it is evident that yoga, mindfulness and meditation are effective self-help interventions to reduce and management well-being and stress-related conditions. One study examined yogic meditation for caregivers experiencing depressive symptoms (Lavretsky et al, 2012). Randomised participants practised yogic meditation group or listened to relaxation music group for 12 minutes per day for 8 weeks. The meditation group had significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms and greater improvement in mental health and cognitive functioning compared to the relaxation music group. This study was particularly interesting as it also demonstrated increased telomerase activity in the yogic meditation group. Telomerase is an enzyme that supports and nourishes telomeres, the protective ends of chromosomes. As we age, telomeres become shorter. It is also known that stress can decrease telomere length. An increase in the function of telomerase suggests a reduced rate of telomere shortening. Therefore, Lavretsky et al (2012) demonstrated that yogic meditation may improve stress-induced cellular aging.
Yoga teachers gain a broader understanding of their practice and teaching by keeping up to date with the latest scientific evidence. As research demonstrates benefits of different types of yoga and meditation, yoga teachers can assist more people living with a range of stress-related conditions such as anxiety, depression and sleep disorders.
Black D et al. (2016). Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: a randomised clinical trial. JAMA Internal Medicine. 175 (4):494-501
Lavretsky H et al. (2013). A pilot study of yogic meditation for family dementia caregivers with depressive symptoms: effects on mental health, cognition, and telomerase activity. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 28:57-65
Li A & Goldsmith W. (2012). The effects of yoga on anxiety and stress. Alternative Medicine Review. 17: 21-35
Smith C, Hancock H, Blake-Mortimer J & Eckert K. (2007). A randomised comparative trial of yoga and relaxation to reduce stress and anxiety. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 15: 77-83
Dr. Judy Lovas is passionate about teaching health professionals evidence-based relaxation therapy. She presents seminars around Australia, please make sure to visit her website.