Why is Yoga So Popular?
Learn more about the benefits of doing yoga for college students.
Over the past decade, yoga has become increasingly popular - especially here in Los Angeles. Yoga studios today are flocked with mostly middle-aged women who pay handsomely to practice the various types of yoga. Though yoga seems to be targeted towards a specific demographic, it is actually beneficial for all people to try. In fact, yoga originated thousands of years ago from a Northern Indian Indus-Sarasvati civilization, with roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. Interestingly enough, the word “yoga” does not define itself as a form of exercise, but rather as “a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation.” The yoga we know of today is considered a recreational activity consisting of posture and breathing exercises that help encourage physical and emotional wellness.
How can college students benefit from this? Many studies have already suggested various physical and mental benefits from doing yoga - one of them being stress management. For students, varying levels of stress are not uncommon. Though the right amount of stress is needed to perform a task (also known as the Yerkes-Dodson law), too much stress can contribute to various ailments such as heart disease and physical pain. Studies done on college students who took part in yoga interventions revealed positive mind-body effects such as better sleep, improved mood, and decreased levels of stress. Yoga has also been shown to improve mental performance which is beneficial for college students who may be struggling with stress management or emotion regulation.
In a study done on adolescents, researchers experimented with yoga amongst a group of students with either high or low levels of stress. These students were randomly assigned into either an experimental or control group where their improvement was measured via an academic test that was administered before and after the intervention. Students in the experimental group engaged in yogic activities, whereas students in the control group did nothing. Researchers found that students in the experimental group had improved post-test scores compared to the control group and in general, students with lower stress levels also improved. Yoga has been shown to decrease levels of stress so for students whose academic success is challenged by high levels of stress, yoga can be used as a means to manage it.
For those interested in learning about the biological evidence of yoga, consider this study done by Dr. Helen Lavretsky of UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Lavetsky and colleagues studied a group of caregivers of dementia patients and how their stress was affected by practicing short yogic exercises. Similar to college students, caregivers have been shown to report high levels of emotional distress. A combination of factors contributes to these increased levels, but Dr. Lavetsky’s study showed how incorporating yoga into the caregiver’s intervention program not only lowered their depression levels, but even reduced “stress-induced cellular aging” shown by the activity of telomerase in cells. Telomorase is an enzyme that promotes cell longevity and maintenance and of caregivers who did the yoga intervention, 43% displayed increased telomerase activity. More scientific studies on the biological and neurological effects of doing yoga are needed but overall, current findings suggest a strong positive relationship between doing yoga and mental-health improvements.
UCLA students and staff can register for yoga classes at UCLA’s Recreation Center, where classes are currently conducted via Zoom. You can even find guided videos on YouTube that are just as beneficial and fun to take part in!
Kauts, Amit, and Neelam Sharma. "Effect of yoga on academic performance in relation to stress." International journal of yoga 2.1 (2009): 39. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21234215/
Tripathi, Mahesh Narain, Sony Kumari, and Tikhe Sham Ganpat. "Psychophysiological effects of yoga on stress in college students." Journal of education and health promotion 7 (2018). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5868218/
Wheeler, Mark. “A Simple, Low-Cost Yoga Program Can Enhance Coping and Quality of Life for the Caregivers.” UCLA Health, 13 Mar. 2012, www.uclahealth.org/low-cost-yoga-program-can-enhance-coping-and-quality-of-life-for-the-caregivers.