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Northwestern Study Says Yoga Can Help Disadvantaged Women

By Gwendolyn Purdom in News on Aug 25, 2016 3:06PM

Photo courtesy of Millennium Park.

The jolt of calm contentment yogis get from Child's Pose or Downward Facing Dog is universal, and now a new study out of Northwestern is suggesting it may even be more beneficial to practitioners who come from distressed backgrounds.

The study, headed by Northwestern's Inger Burnett-Ziegler, suggests mindfulness-based strategies like yoga and meditation can be particularly helpful for disadvantaged women.

Burnett-Ziegler and her team tracked the progress of 31 African-American women between the ages of 18 and 65 while they engaged in an eight-week program that incorporated meditation, yoga and body visualization exercises. According to a write-up about the study on Northwestern's site, 45 percent of the women said they had no prior experience with meditation and 71 percent said they'd never done yoga. After the eight weeks, patients a showed "significant" decrease in "depressive symptoms." The team conducted its research at the Komed Holman Health Center on Chicago's South Side where many participants were struggling with issues of poverty, violence, and a greater overall risk of depressive disorders.

“These practices help them take a step back and live in the moment versus worrying about what’s already happened or what’s to come,” Burnett-Zeigler said in a PR release. “People who are depressed or who have depressive symptoms often have tunnel vision, whereby they’re only seeing information in the environment that supports their negative beliefs.

Such exercises and mindsets might be a helpful alternative to traditional therapy in disadvantaged communities where there's still a stigma around mental health services like therapy and many are without health insurance. The study, which was published earlier this month in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, found patients kept experiencing reduced symptoms of depression and stress even weeks after the program concluded. The approach is also promising because even in areas with minimal access to group classes or studios, websites, apps and other free resources are available to women who could benefit from them. Burnett-Ziegler said she's planning on using future studies to examine the feasibility of implementing low-cost mindfulness-based approaches to mental health nationwide. Women who were able to learn techniques for slowing down and connecting symptoms in their body with psychological stress showed improvement. Just a shift in mindset can be a big help, Burnett-Ziegler said.

[h/t: Chicago Tonight]