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Yoga reduces college students’ stress, new research confirms

Published on October 05, 2023

Yoga reduces college students’ stress, new research confirms

yoga class
Members of the Eastern community take a yoga class with instructor Amanda Eichner in the Sports Center Dance Studio. Classes are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12 - 1 p.m. and open to those with a valid Eastern ID. 

Yoga courses are a significant stress and anxiety reducer for college students, a population that ranks high in self-reported anxiety and depression, according to a recent paper co-authored by Gregory Kane, professor of business administration at Eastern Connecticut State University.

“Yoga and Mental Health in University Students,” published in June in the National Wellness Institute Journal, confirmed other studies finding that yoga therapy can help address the mental health crisis among college students.

“Yoga and mindfulness are cost-effective and preventive strategies for campus-wide mental health initiatives,” the authors found.

Kane co-authored the paper with Martha Goldstein-Schultz, who formerly taught at Eastern and now is a program advisor at the University of Connecticut. In fall 2021 they studied 115 Eastern students in yoga or health education classes. The students, all volunteers, participated in either a Hatha yoga class three times a week for seven weeks or personal health classes that included a meditation and mindfulness unit.

Greg Kane headshot
Gregory Kane

The students were assessed for their perceived stress and anxiety levels before and after taking the classes. While students enrolled in health education classes did not report a significant change in scores, the yoga students “self reported lower anxiety and perceived stress scores by completion of the course,” the authors found.

Considering the growing need for mental health services among undergraduates and the demand for counseling services, “this brief yogic intervention is accessible to all students on campus and provides mental health benefits from engaging in the practice,” they found.

“Yoga is only one example of a resiliency training tool that campuses may offer with the support and awareness of a proactive college administration,” they wrote.

Other studies have found that “colleges and universities that provide yoga and mindfulness courses enhance students’ coping skills and tools to reduce the use of substances to manage stress, mood disorders and anxiety,” they wrote. The authors said that their research “adds to the existing literature by highlighting university students’ mental health benefits of yoga courses to lower stress and anxiety levels.”

Kane, a kinesiologist, has conducted other research on the link between mood and physical activity. He has looked at 25 to 30 types of fitness activities, from basketball to karate, and has found that “every single time we see a benefit,” with physical activity improving mood. That mood enhancement only lasts a day or two after an activity, so if the activity isn’t continued, it can lead to a depressed state, he said.

Theories on why fitness activities enhance mood range from hormonal changes – endorphins increase with activity – to socializing with fellow participants to activity being a distraction that can clear the mind, he said.

“Some universities get that mental health is affected by physical health,” he said. Massachusetts Institute of Technology has one of the most thriving intramural cultures among colleges, he noted. And at Eastern, student athletes have better graduation rates and higher GPAs, and demonstrate better retention rates than other students.

Kane teaches a sports management course and a sociology course in sport and society. He is also working on the third edition of his book, “Sport Leadership in the 21st Century.”

Current students and other members of the Eastern community can take yoga classes free of charge this fall semester on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12 - 1 p.m. in the Sports Center Dance Studio. The classes are sponsored by the Department of Athletics. A valid Eastern ID is required.

Written by Lucinda Weiss