In a recent study, recurrent stress among youths is reduced through group yoga. A new study from the Institute of the R.I

In a recent study, recurrent stress among youths is reduced through group yoga. A new study from the ...

The Boston Globes weekly Ocean State Innovators column includes a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state economy. Send comments and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at alexa.gago'

Researchers at Butler Hospital recently conducted a study on how group yoga classes may help adolescents with elevated levels of stress and who are depressed.

Dr. Lisa Uebelacker is a clinical psychologist at Butler Hospital and Brown University was the lead investigator on the study. Shes not the first person to have studied the effects of hatha yoga on people suffering from depression or chronic pain.

In a number of ongoing and completed clinical trials, Uebelacker has focused on people with varying responses to antidepressant treatments, people suffering from chronic pain enrolled in medication-assisted treatment for opioid disorder, prisoners, and pregnant depressed women.

What is the purpose of the study?

Uebelacker: We are experimenting with a group of teen with elevated levels of depression or stress and comparing the yoga program to kcb therapy, which is an evidence-based treatment for depression. Were really looking at, can we do this? Are you looking for children interested in learning more? Will they come to class and how can we make the classes accessible for them?

We used the data from the pilot to prepare for a larger-scale study where we want to determine if he yoga class is better than group CBT and whether they both are helpful for adolescents with depression, whether the yoga is not inferior to the group treatment, and then we can determine for whom will henna yoga be better or for who will group therapy be more beneficial.

(The pilot study was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the US National Institutes of Health; Dr. Shirley Yen was the study's lead author.)

Why is yoga important to you?

Uebelacker: Yoga incorporates elements of medication, of breath awareness and breath control, as well as movement. What I also like about yoga is that, for both adults and children with depression, if you think about medication, it may be difficult for some people to start a sitting-meditation practice. They're just sitting there with all of these negative thoughts constantly. Yoga, on the other hand, incorporates all of those elements that you need: focusing on their breathing, concentrating on movement, it teaches mindfulness, but in a context where it may be easier to access for some people with depression.

Plus, if you think about people who are depressed, who may be a little lethargic, it really helps them to move in softer ways.

And when you say elevated levels of depression, what does that mean?

Uebelacker: It varies a bit. Some of the adolescents in our program had individual therapy, had a psychiatrist, and were taking some medication.

When did this program begin and how many participants did you have?

Uebelacker: It was a three-year study that were just about to finish. We did focus groups with teens and parents in the beginning. We looked at their wants and ideas on how yoga for teens and stress might look. We then sent 11 kids to the yoga program.

In our third phase, we randomly assigned more than 40 children to either the yoga program or the group CBT program.

How did COVID-19 influence the program?

Uebelacker: COVID-19 rolled around during the study, and we had to switch everything from in-person to online. The bright side was that all the kids continued to attend, which was a plus, since they liked it. If children and parents dont like something or don't understand it, they simply wons not going to come back and waste their time. So it appears the program has been acceptable to these teenagers, and they are even doing it online.

The study is approaching its end. What have you found so far?

Uebelacker: Many of the teens have said they found it relaxing and helped them get through the stresses of everyday life, especially in the last year. They can now go to school and if theres a stressful moment where their heart starts beating hard, theyve got techniques they can utilize (like breathing exercises) to cope in the moment. And thats exactly what theyre reporting to us.

Youve also looked at how yoga has assisted other groups as well. What do you see with that data?

Uebelacker: Im finishing up a study that looks at how health education and yoga compare to depressed, pregnant women. We dont yet have results, but theres also preliminary data that suggests yoga may help with chronic pain, which may benefit people with opioid use disorders who were given medication to help their pain. We want to give them an alternative. So were being read to begin a study of yoga for chronic pain in that population in both Providence and Boston.

Alexa Gagosz is available at Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.

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