Date of Award

9-28-2018

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Jarry, Josée

Keywords

Ashtanga yoga, Autonomic nervous system, Blood pressure, Psychological well-being

Rights

CC-BY-NC-ND

Abstract

The recent widespread appeal of yoga highlights the importance of empirically assessing the ways in which it can improve psychophysiological health. A major limitation in the growing body of yoga research is the wide variability in what is considered “yoga.” This interferes with the interpretation of results and with the identification of yoga’s mechanisms of action. Ashtanga yoga addresses this limitation by being a set system of poses, making the practice a stable independent variable, ideal for empirical investigation. Ashtanga also is the only style of yoga that is practiced under the tristana, a method that integrates exercise, controlled breathing, and gaze, which induces the first stage of meditation. Additionally, Ashtanga yoga’s unique aerobic/resistance properties are known to affect the autonomic nervous system by increasing parasympathetic activity. The aim of the present study was to explore the potential relation between the autonomic nervous system and the previously reported beneficial effects of Ashtanga yoga on psychological well-being using a pre-/post-study design. Twenty-four healthy participants completed 6-weeks of twice weekly Ashtanga yoga. The results confirmed Ashtanga yoga’s effectiveness for improving psychological well-being and demonstrated that these improvements are associated with improvements in autonomic function. Findings are consistent with proposed theories of the physiological mechanisms of change in the practice of yoga, and they provide the first empirically supported evidence for the association between autonomic function and the psychological benefits of Ashtanga. The next step is to conduct randomized controlled trials to replicate these results and establish causality.

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