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IEL: Other Research Projects

Read “Yoga Research at Kripalu: The Power of Possibility,” by Stephen Cope

Yoga and PTSD

Nearly 16 percent of returning troops develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In response, the Department of Defense (DOD) is seeking effective methods of treating PTSD in war veterans and active duty military personnel. In 2008, IEL partner Dr. Sat Bir Khalsa received a grant from the DOD to study the effects of Kripalu Yoga on military personnel with PTSD. The IEL collaborated with trauma and yoga experts to develop a comprehensive yoga program specifically designed to relieve symptoms of trauma. During the 10-week study, veterans attend two 90-minute Kripalu Yoga classes each week and practice at home every day for 15 minutes. The primary goals are to reduce PTSD severity and symptoms and decrease nervous system arousal. Pre-, mid-, post-, and long-term follow-up treatment measures include questionnaires and interviews that measure PTSD symptoms, subjective well-being, and mood; electrocardiogram readings to monitor heart-rate variability; and 24-hour urine samples to assay the presence of stress hormones.

Meet the Principal Investigator
Sat Bir S. Khalsa, PhD, is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in the department of sleep medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. His projects have focused on the therapeutic applications of yoga in a number of settings, including public schools, and for several conditions, including insomnia, performance anxiety, and PTSD. Dr. Khalsa is one of the most active, skillful, and experienced researchers in the yoga world today.

Yoga and the Brain

IEL partner Dr. Sara Lazar has scanned the brains of longtime Kripalu practitioners with state-of-the-art fMRI imaging technology to determine if yoga practice can change the actual structure of the brain. This study will also evaluate positive changes on attention, fluid intelligence, and enhanced emotional and cognitive functioning.

Meet the Principal Investigator
Sara Lazar, PhD, is an instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and a professor of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she specializes in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Dr. Lazar employs the latest techniques in brain imaging in her research and has been widely cited in the mainstream press for her work on brain plasticity and meditation.

Yoga and Weight Loss

PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL-BEING, HEALTH BEHAVIORS, AND WEIGHT LOSS AMONG PARTICIPANTS IN A RESIDENTIAL, KRIPALU YOGA–BASED WEIGHT LOSS PROGRAM


AUTHOR(S): Braun, T.D., Park, C.L., Conboy, L.A.,

SOURCE:

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ABSTRACT: Overweight and obesity is a growing public health concern in the US. Concomitants include poor health behaviors and reduced psychological well-being. Preliminary evidence suggests yoga and treatment paradigms incorporating mindfulness, self-compassion (SC), acceptance, non-dieting, and intuitive eating may improve these ancillary correlates, which may promote long-term weight loss. We explored the impact of a 5-day residential Kripalu yoga-based, multi-faceted weight loss program that incorporated elements of the latter approaches on health behaviors, weight loss, and psychological well-being in overweight/obese individuals. Thirty-seven overweight/obese program participants (aged 32-65, BMI >25) completed validated mindfulness, SC, lifestyle behavior, and mood questionnaires at baseline, post-program, and three-month follow-up and reported their weight one year after program completion. Significant improvements in nutrition behaviors, SC, mindfulness, stress management, and spiritual growth were observed immediately post-program (n=31, 84% retention) with medium to large effect sizes. At three-month follow-up (n=18, 49% retention), most changes persisted. Physical activity and mood disturbance improved significantly post-program, but failed to reach significance at three-month follow-up. Self-report weight loss at 1 year (n=19, 51% retention) was significant, with a large effect size. These findings suggest a mindful yoga-based, residential weight loss protocol may foster psychological well-being, improved health behaviors and weight loss.

Kripalu yoga, the style of yoga foundational to this program’s approach and execution, is theoretically and pragmatically aligned with third-wave therapeutic models for weight management and health behavior promotion, and warrants further study as a potential therapeutic adjunct.



PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL-BEING, HEALTH BEHAVIORS, AND WEIGHT LOSS AMONG PARTICIPANTS IN A RESIDENTIAL, KRIPALU YOGA–BASED WEIGHT LOSS PROGRAM


AUTHOR(S): Tosca D. Braun, Crystal L. Park, Lisa Ann Conboy

SOURCE: International Journal of Yoga Therapy

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ABSTRACT: The increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity in humans is a growing public health concern in the United States. Concomitants include poor health behaviors and reduced psychological well-being. Preliminary evidence suggests yoga and treatment paradigms incorporating mindfulness, self-compassion (SC), acceptance, nondieting, and intuitive eating may improve these ancillary correlates, which may promote long-term weight loss. Methods: We explored the impact of a 5-day residential weight loss program, which was multifaceted and based on Kripalu yoga, on health behaviors, weight loss, and psychological well-being in overweight/obese individuals. Thirty-seven overweight/obese program participants (age 32-65, BMI>25) completed validated mindfulness, SC, lifestyle behavior, and mood questionnaires at baseline, postprogram, and 3-month follow-up and reported their weight 1 year after program completion. Results: Significant improvements in nutrition behaviors, SC mindfulness, stress management, and spiritual growth were observed immediately postprogram (n=21, 84% retention), which medium to large effect sizes. At 3-month follow-up (n=18, 49% retention), most changes persisted. Physical activity and mood disturbance had improved significantly postprogram but failed to reach significance at 3-month follow-up. Self-report weight loss at 1 year (n= 19, 51% retention) was significant. Conclusion: These findings suggest a Kripalu yoga-based, residential weight loss program may foster psychological well-being, improved nutrition behaviors, and weight loss. Given the exploratory nature of this investigation, more rigorous work in this area is warranted.


Yoga and Police Recruits

EVALUATION OF THE PSYCHOLOGICAL BENEFITS OF A YOGA PROGRAM FOR POLICE ACADEMY RECRUITS


AUTHOR(S): Pamela E. Jeter, Susan Cronin, Sat Bir S. Khalsa

SOURCE: Stress and Health

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ABSTRACT: Law enforcement ranks as one of the most stressful occupations in the world. Occupational stress can lead to detrimental health outcomes such as depression, as well as maladaptive coping behaviors such as domestic abuse. Police academy training may not prepare recruits adequately to handle the long-term effects of occupational stress. Yoga is a mind-body practice composed of postures, breathing, and meditation techniques and is known for its beneficial effects on stress and mood disturbances. The present pilot study evaluated the effects of a 6-class Kripalu Yoga program on perceived stress, mood and mindfulness during police academy recruit training. Outcome measures included the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), Profile of Mood States-Short Form (POMSSF) and the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) and were collected from 39 cadets pre and post- yoga program. An exit survey to determine perceived benefits was obtained on the last day. Overall improvements were observed for perceived stress (p=0.03) and mood (p=0.001). A qualitative assessment of the exit survey indicated perceived benefits however the specifics varied by individual. These preliminary results are promising and warrant further investigation.


Yoga and Musicians

A YOGA INTERVENTION FOR MUSIC PERFORMANCE ANXIETY IN CONSERVATORY STUDENTS


AUTHOR(S): Judith R. S. Stern, Ph.D., J.D.

SOURCE:

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ABSTRACT: Music performance anxiety adversely affects a large minority of musicians. There is a need for additional treatment strategies, especially those that might be more acceptable to musicians than existing therapies. This pilot study examined the effectiveness of a 9-week yoga practice on reducing music performance anxiety in undergraduate and graduate music conservatory students, including both vocalists and instrumentalists. The intervention consisted of fourteen 60-minute yoga classes approximately twice a week and a brief daily home practice. Of the 24 students enrolled in the study, 17 attended the post-intervention assessment. Participants who completed the measures at both pre- and post-intervention assessments showed large decreases in music performance anxiety as well as in trait anxiety. Improvements were sustained at 7- to 14-month follow-up. No changes were observed in mood or in music performance anxiety as retrospectively perceived in group performance or practice settings. Participants generally provided positive comments about the program and its benefits. This study suggests that yoga is a promising intervention for MPA in conservatory students, and therefore warrants further research.



YOGA AMELIORATES PERFORMANCE ANXIETY AND MOOD DISTURBANCE IN YOUNG PROFESSIONAL MUSICIANS


AUTHOR(S): Sat Bir S. Khalsa, Stephanie M. Shorter, Stephen Cope, Grace Wyshak, Elyse Sklar

SOURCE: Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback

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ABSTRACT: Yoga and meditation can alleviate stress, anxiety, mood disturbance, and musculoskeletal problems, and can enhance cognitive and physical performance. Professional musicians experience high levels of stress, performance anxiety, and debilitating performance-related musculoskeletal disorders (PRMDs). The goal of this controlled study was to evaluate the benefits of yoga and meditation for musicians. Young adult professional musicians who volunteered to participate in a 2-month program of yoga and meditation were randomized to a yoga lifestyle intervention group (n = 15) or to a group practicing yoga and meditation only (n = 15). Additional musicians were recruited to a no-practice control group (n = 15). Both yoga groups attended three Kripalu Yoga or meditation classes each week. The yoga lifestyle group also experienced weekly group practice and discussion sessions as part of their more immersive treatment. All participants completed baseline and end-program self-report questionnaires that evaluated music performance anxiety, mood, PRMDs, perceived stress, and sleep quality; many participants later completed a 1-year follow up assessment using the same questionnaires.

Both yoga groups showed a trend towards less music performance anxiety and significantly less general anxiety/tension, depression, and anger at end-program relative to controls, but showed no changes in PRMDs, stress, or sleep. Similar results in the two yoga groups, despite psychosocial differences in their interventions, suggest that the yoga and meditation techniques themselves may have mediated the improvements. Our results suggest that yoga and meditation techniques can reduce performance anxiety and mood disturbance in young professional musicians.


Yoga and Flourishing

MOVING BEYOND HEALTH TO FLOURISHING: THE EFFECTS OF YOGA TEACHER TRAINING


AUTHOR(S): L.A. Conboy, A Wilson, and T. Braun

SOURCE: The Scientific World Journal

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ABSTRACT: Research in the medical and psychological fields has primarily followed a “disease-focused” approach to health. Although there is growing research on the components and outcomes of well-being, very few studies have focused on traditional practices that can be used as interventions to encourage human flourishing. The current study was developed to address this research gap. We suggest one effective method of increasing psychological well-being, the practice of yoga, an age-old practice that has been said to produce physical and psychological health. In this observational study, we examined associations with participation in a 4-week yoga teacher training resident program. Measurement instruments were chosen to capture changes in psychosocial health and human flourishing. Measurements were taken before the start of the program, immediately after the program, and 3 months postprogram. As expected, in this healthy population, the human flourishing scales showed more change than the psychosocial health scales. For example, in this healthy sample, there were no significant changes in perceived social support, quality of life, or self-efficacy from baseline to the 3-month follow-up. However, optimism, a positive psychology research measure, improved from baseline to follow-up. The mindfulness subscales of observation, awareness, and nonreactivity all improved following the training, suggesting that one benefit of yoga practice is a more refined ability to attend to one’s inner experience. This study adds to the growing literature focusing on interventions that move beyond relieving pathology to those that produce optimal functioning and human thriving.