How Yoga Reduces Stress

New research examines the science behind a certain type of yoga’s ability to reduce stress in our bodies.

Research shows that caregivers who do 12 minutes of Kirtan Kriya each day reduce their inflammation and stress levels significantly. Kirtan Kriya is a yoga-meditation practice that involves finger poses and chanting. Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

It’s common knowledge that the deep breathing and meditation associated with yoga produce a calming effect. But research has been slim on exactly what happens to our bodies when we engage in yoga. Now, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have determined how doing a certain type of yoga can reduce stress levels, particularly in caregivers of those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The UCLA team studied 45 dementia caregivers, a group that often experiences higher levels of stress and depression. They’re also more likely to show high levels of body inflammation, due to the stressful nature of their work. Researchers set out to determine whether doing yoga could reduce those high inflammation levels.

The participants were divided into two groups: One group was taught a 12-minute yoga practice called Kirtan Kriya (KKM), which involves meditation, chanting, and finger poses. The other group relaxed in a quiet environment with their eyes closed while listening to instrumental music or a relaxation CD. Both groups performed their tasks 12 minutes a day for eight weeks.

Before and after the eight-week period, researchers took blood samples from each participant. “The goal of the study was to determine if meditation might alter the activity of inflammatory and antiviral proteins that shape immune gene expression,” said Dr. Helen Lavretsky, the senior author of the study, in a statement.

The team found that the group that underwent the KKM treatment experienced a reduction of the proteins that are directly linked to inflammation. It’s promising news, especially for caregivers who rarely have time for themselves, said Lavretsky. “Caregivers often don’t have the time, energy, or contacts that could bring them a little relief from the stress of taking care of loved one with dementia, so practicing a brief form of yogic meditation, which is easy to learn, is a useful tool.”

It’s not the first time KKM treatment has been studied for its effects on stress levels. A small study published earlier this year found that people who had suffered memory loss experienced improvements in mood, anxiety, tension, and fatigue after undergoing the eight-week meditation program.

The full study was published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.