India has the highest teenage suicide rates. Academic stress and fear of exams are compounded by home and from peer group pressures.
Can yoga nidra, a traditional practice of achieving a conscious, but sleep-like state, help adolescents handle stress?
To find out, researchers from the Father Muller institutions in Mangalore recently selected around 70 students from more than 80 volunteers about to face 10th standard board exams.
“We did not include students with health issues. And those who were already practicing yoga were also excluded to reduce confounding factors”, says Sucharitha Suresh, Department of Community Medicine.
The students were divided into two groups – one practised yoga nidra and the other served as the control group.
During November-December, just before school hours, from 8:15 to 8:45 in the morning, students in the Yoga Nidra group were trained to practice relaxation. As they lay in sleeping posture in the school auditorium, Ovine Loyster D’Souza, Father Muller College of Nursing, guided them to be aware of their breath, to pay attention to the parts of the body and to surrounding sounds. They were then instructed to visualise positive thoughts about themselves – that they were healthy, successful …
While students in the Yoga Nidra group practiced thus for 21 days, students in the control group did physical activities in the playground. Then, both groups resumed regular classes and routine school activities.
“There were some dropouts from both groups. But we had accounted for this and had adequate numbers to make confident conclusions”, says Susharitha Suresh, Father Muller Medical College.
The researchers assessed the stress levels of both groups before and after the intervention, using the India-specific adolescent stress questionnaire. The questionnaire evaluated total stress – from home life, school performance, teacher interaction, conflicts between school and leisure, peer pressures, romantic involvement, future uncertainty…
“The study was carried out when there were no exams, during normal academic activities, when stress levels were low or moderate,” clarifies M S Baliga from the Father Muller Medical Research Centre.
While more than 40 percent of the students in the control group had moderate stress, among students practicing yoga nidra, it was barely four percent.
“Yoga nidra can be affordable and accessible. The only adverse event was snoring when some students actually fell asleep”, smiles Ovine, Department of Psychiatric Nursing.
“Since yoga nidra does not involve asanas, it is safe to practice. School curriculums can easily add the practice,” says Agnes Elizabeth Jose, Father Muller College of Nursing.
One-fifth of Indians are adolescents. Reducing stress at this critical developmental stage could have positive implications on the future society.
However, the researchers stress that the study needs to be followed up with physiological testing such as EEG or salivary cortisol tests for stress.
Complement. Ther. Clin. Pract. 45:101462 (2021);
National Remote Sensing Centre, Hyderabad
Editors’ note: This report was written in a workshop on science writing organised by Current Science.
More such reports can be accessed in a column titled Current Science Reports from the Current Science website.
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