LU employees use yoga to relieve stress

Their own sense of well-being after a yoga session led them onto a new path in their research. Over 200 LU employees signed up as volunteers for their first study. Now they are finalising an interdisciplinary investigation of the psychological and physiological health effects of yoga.

Rachel Maddux

Rachel Maddux.

Rachel Maddux, Una Tellhed and Daiva Daukantaité are colleagues at the Department of Psychology in Lund. In addition, they are regular yoga practitioners and convinced that yoga helps them to handle stress at work.

“I started doing yoga because I had back pain”, explains Una Tellhed. ‟When I noticed that it helped me to relax and to sleep better as well, I was hooked.”

She started practising yoga on a daily basis, both on her own at home and in a group. Her passion for yoga was shared by her colleagues Rachel Maddux and Daiva Daukantaité and a shared conversation on how well they felt as a result of yoga training led to their decision to start a joint project.

“We wanted to test scientifically whether yoga really does have a stress-relieving effect”, says Rachel Maddux, adding that there were not many studies on yoga when they started their investigation three years ago. There are many such studies today.

Via the human resources managers at the University, they sought out employees who felt stressed and wanted to take part in a yoga study. A criterion for selection was that the volunteers were never to have tried yoga before.

­“We were surprised by how many University employees wanted to take part: over 200”, says Daiva Daukantaité.

The study, which ended up comprising 90 University employees, produced a clear result. Those who practised yoga twice a week for 8 weeks reported definite improvements with regard to anxiety, stress and general well-being in comparison with the control group. Similar results were found in the control group when they, too, subsequently tested yoga over eight weeks.

­“It was great to see that ordinary yoga sessions in large groups at the Gerdahallen sports facility gave results”, says Daiva Daukantaité.

One of those who answered the researchers’ call for volunteers for the study was Olle Melander, himself a cardio-vascular disease researcher. He was following a similar line of thought and suggested a joint study to measure the physiological effects of yoga as well. The psychologists were on board and, although the interdisciplinary study is not yet complete, there is much to indicate that it will provide evidence of yoga’s positive effects on stress and sleep.

Una Tellhed does not believe that University employees are more stressed than other professional categories, but she points to studies that have shown how the pace of society as a whole has accelerated.

“When I was studying on the psychology degree programme in the late 90s, a lecturer told me that an academic career was a good choice because you didn’t have so much stress”, says Una Tellhed. “I don’t think anyone would describe the profession in those terms today”.

Daiva Daukantaité thinks that yoga has taught her to focus on the present moment and to use micro-breaks, such as going to get a cup of coffee, to relax. At the same time, however, she is careful to point out that she does not see yoga as a universal solution:

“It just means you are better equipped to deal with a stressful situation, not that it should be used to avoid tackling the structural problem of excessive workloads.”

Ulrika Oredsson