Yoga Trumps Relaxation in Caregiver Mental Health
Caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients
typically experience greater levels of loneliness, exhaustion,
stress, and depression. A new
study from the University of California, Los Angeles, finds that
just 12 minutes of daily yoga practice (Kirtan Kriya meditation) over
eight weeks appears to improve mental health and telomerase activity,
a marker of cellular aging, among family dementia caregivers.
Alzheimer’s affects some 5.4 million
individuals in the US. According to researcher Dr. Heven Lavretsky,
caregivers of those afflicted with the debilitating disease
experience rates of clinical depression approaching 50 percent. They
are also twice as likely to report high levels of emotional distress.
Many caregivers are resistant to taking antidepressant medication due to
cost and side effects, which prompted this study to assess the
effectiveness of a mind-body approach.
The researchers randomly assigned
thirty-nine family dementia caregivers aged 45 to 91 to one of two
groups: 1) Kirtan Kriya yoga practice or 2) relaxation music. Each
practice was assigned daily for 12 minutes at the same time for an
eight-week duration. The Kirtan Kriya group was comprised of several
elements, including chanting, mudra (finger poses), and
visualization, while the relaxation group relaxed quietly with eyes
closes listening to instrumental music on a CD.
Results at the end of eight weeks were
“striking,” says Lavretsky. Relative to the control group, Kirtan
Kriya participants demonstrated significantly lower levels of
depression and greater improvement in mental health and cognitive
functioning. Measurement of telomerase activity showed a 3.7%
increase in the relaxation group, whereas the yoga condition improved
a whopping 43% over the course of the study.
Telomerase is an enzyme responsible for
telomere length and maintenance, reductions of which have been linked
to aging, psychological distress, and other health problems such as
cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Several recent
studies have suggested meditation practice may increase
telomerase, although this is the first study to link chanting,
visualization, and mantra to increases in telomerase activity.
study is noteworthy for several reasons. Firstly, the researchers
used a rigorous design (randomized controlled trial) that allows us
to infer preliminary causality; because of the active control group,
we are able to say that the yoga condition was most likely to cause
the observed improvements, rather than other extraneous factors.
Secondly, it contributes to our understanding of how yoga and related
practices feature benefits that may prove additive to the relaxation
Finally, this study renders a unique
contribution to our understanding of yoga’s benefits as a whole.
Most Western yoga research focuses on yoga asana or meditation, only
two limbs of yoga’s eight-limbed path. This study suggests that
yogic practices not commonly perceived as yoga or meditation (though
Kirtan Kriya represents both) are still highly effective. Kirtan
Kriya appears more effective, to boot, than relaxation, an
evidence-based and often-utilized therapeutic approach for the
Have you or someone you know
benefited from yoga as a caregiver? Share your experience with us.