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Benefits of yoga for stress - what's the reality?

13 March, 2013

Can yoga really help people to overcome stress?

That's the question being posed by new research at the University of Adelaide, which is hoping to better understand if, and how, yoga can be used as a therapy for stress - and who can benefit most from it.

The study is being conducted by Psychology PhD student Kaitlin Harkess who has been a yoga instructor for the past seven years.

"Anecdotally there's a lot of evidence to suggest that yoga can have benefits for people experiencing stress; I've seen that from my yoga students over the years. But it's one thing just to accept this as fact, it's quite another to put it to the test scientifically, which is what we're doing with this new study," Ms Harkess said.

"Yoga is growing in popularity in Western countries, but so are stress levels in our everyday lives.

"Severe forms of stress can be extremely debilitating for people - they can suffer physical as well as psychological and emotional impacts from stress.

"Anxiety, burn-out, depression, these are all of interest from a clinical psychology point of view. But stress can also result in real problems with people's immune systems and cardiovascular health, for example.

"Yoga involves controlled movement of the body, breathing and relaxation techniques, and these might be broadly applicable to helping people overcome stress in their lives."

South Australian women aged 35-65 are needed for the study. They must be new to yoga. By participating, women will learn a basic form of yoga and attend a free yoga class twice a week for two months.

Harkess said women who participate in the study will fill out a standard psychology questionnaire to help determine their level of stress. Those taking part in the study can give blood so that biochemical markers for stress can be tracked.

"There have been small studies in the past suggesting that yoga is beneficial in overcoming stress, but we're looking for 90 women to participate, which will be the biggest study of its kind so far," Harkess said.

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