Study Shows Link Between Yoga and Exam Stress

Published on February 7, 2012

finals, SATs: Most of us undergo examinations at some point in our
lives, along with the requisite increases in stress. Stress has the
unfortunate side effect of weakening the immune system, as many
sniffling students can attest. A recent study found a 12-week yoga
intervention to protect against the impairment of cellular immunity
and autonomic nervous
system changes
caused by examination stress.

and colleagues recruited 60 first-year medical students (all women,
aged 17-20 years) and randomly assigned them to a 12-week yoga or
no-treatment control group. The yoga group practiced 35 minutes per
day. Each practice included yogic prayer (two minutes), Sukshma
Vyayam (physical body
warm-ups, six minutes) and Sthula
(subtle body
warm-ups, four minutes),
asanas (yoga
postures, twelve minutes), pranayama
(breathing exercises,
four minutes), and dhyana
(meditation, five
minutes). The researchers measured self-reported stress and anxiety
in addition to physiological and biochemical markers of stress and
immunity. Participants were assessed before the yoga began (baseline)
and 12 weeks later, while taking medical mid-term exams.

in the control group significantly worsened on all parameters during
the exam. By contrast, the yoga group reported significant decreases
in subjective stress and anxiety, while physiological and biochemical
measures of stress and immunity remained stable compared to the
control group.

impact of stress on compromised immunity and many other health
problems has been well documented. Because one of yoga’s primary
theorized pathways of action is stress reduction
it may serve as a useful tool in the arsenal against a broader array
of stress-related illnesses and conditions than those tested here.
As suggested by this study, yoga may also exert a powerful protective
benefit, effectively functioning as a form of preventive medicine.

yoga research has focused on yoga’s potential as such, although a
2009 report of a study comparing yoga to physical education in a high
school setting parallels the findings of the study reported here.
Drs. Sat Bir Khalsa and Jessica Noggle of the Brigham and Women’s
Hospital found the yoga group to significantly improve on measures of
anger control and fatigue relative to control subjects. In support of
the notion that yoga may function as preventive medicine, the control
group’s mental health worsened over the course of the study, while
the yoga students either showed minimal change or slight

implications of these researchers’ results, combined with a growing
body of research literature that suggests yoga may impact multiple
domains of health, is both remarkable and provocative. Imagine if, as
suggested by Dr. Khalsa, all students experienced yoga as a form of
mind-body hygiene (similar to brushing your teeth) in order to
protect against stressors and optimize health. Given that most
lifestyle diseases—the leading cause of death in the US—are
preventable, yoga’s potential to support health and well-being is

you found yoga to reduce exam stress or anxiety? Do you get sick
less often when you practice yoga?

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2 responses to “Study Shows Link Between Yoga and Exam Stress”

  1. yogatwb Avatar

    I teach yoga at the local state college; my students often report that the yoga helps them get through the stressful parts of the semester!

  2. bblask Avatar

    At health Directions, a wellness facility of Lexington Medical Center of Columbia, SC a class of slow flow yoga emphasizing Donna Farhi’s full body breathing methods evokes participant comments of increased energy applied to physical tasks such as cleaning house. They also note that they sense emotional refreshment. This demographic is mostly female in the age range of 50-70. Meditation takes the form of 5-10 breaths while holding an asana in which comfort and stability are encouraged, as well as a closing 5-10 minute Savasana during which verbally guided relaxation and restful imagery is given.

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Tosca Park Avatar
About the author
Tosca Park, a 200-hour Kripalu Yoga instructor and 500-hour Integrative Yoga Therapist, is a doctoral student in Clinical Health Psychology at the University of Connecticut, where she conducts research on yoga, mindfulness, and health with her mentor, Dr. Crystal Park, and collaborators. Prior to UConn Tosca spent five years as a research intern and project manager with Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living, an organization devoted to the scientific study of yoga-based curricula. She holds bachelor’s degrees from Reed College and SUNY Empire State College in history and health psychology, respectively, and has more than 2,000 hours of training in yoga, Ayurveda, and the mind-body connection.
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