In 2010, a team of researchers, including Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D., Lisa Christian, Ph.D., Heather Preston, B.A., Carrie R. Houts, M.S., William B. Malarkey, M.D., Charles F. Emery, Ph.D., and Ronald Glaser, Ph.D., published Stress, Inflammation, and Yoga Practice in the peer-reviewed medical journal Psychosomatic Medicine. They selected a group of 50 healthy women to participate in yoga, movement control, and passive-video control on three separate visits.
The study classified the participants as novices or experts in yoga and measured affect on the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), a self-report questionnaire that includes two 10-item mood scale (positive and negative). Regardless of classification (novice or expert), the researchers noticed that a set 10 pose yoga session boosted participants’ positive affect while the other two controlled conditions (movement and passive-video) showed decreases in positive affect.
Positive affect refers to positive emotions and expressions as well as one’s propensity to experience positive emotions, experiences, and relationships. Positive affect may express itself as joy, contentment, or engagement. In yoga philosophy, the second niyama (personal observance; second limb of yoga) is santosha which is often translated as contentment.
Background and Disclosures on the Sequence
For this study, researchers compiled a restorative sequence based on Iyengar’s teaching method with emphasis on the use of props for precision and comfort. Props were not used in the following photos.
For a guide on specific prop usage for your body, please refer to books by Iyengar or seek the advice of an experienced Iyengar teacher. The reference points found for pose duration are as follows: Supta Baddha Konasana (10 minutes), Viparita Karani (10 minutes), and Savasana (15 minutes).
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Supported Uttanasana (Intense Forward Stretch)
Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)
Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Bend)
Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose)
Bharadvajasana (Simple Seated Twist Pose)
Viparita Karani (Restful Inversion)
Supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Kiecolt-Glaser et. al. (2010) highlighted one of countless studies conducted on the mind and body connection. In another example, in 2004, David Shapiro and Karen Cline, researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles, published Mood Changes Associated with Iyengar Yoga Practices: A Pilot Study in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. Their relatively small sample of 11 healthy yoga students participated in nine 90-minute yoga sessions focused on three different types of yoga poses (back bends, forward bends, and standing poses).
Their research noted that back bends increased self-reported positive mood especially for participants who were categorized as “relatively hostile or depressed.” In their study, the effects could last for up to two hours post yoga practice. Shapiro and Cline (2004) advocated that yoga practices should be investigated for potential clinical application in mood disorders and depression.
One of the alluring and challenging parts of yoga is that you have to do the practice with continued effort over a long period of time. This gives you time and space to be your own personal investigator, to research how different poses impact your affect.
Do you notice in certain poses you become restless or others you become content? Based on Shapiro and Cline (2004), you might craft a practice around Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose) when you are feeling down.
As always, yoga is not a cure all. It can be extremely beneficial and necessary to seek out a trained doctor or mental health counselor. Happy practicing and wishing you all the positive affect!
Image Credit: Ling Beisecker