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Chrysalis Yoga and Humber collaborate on study of the benefits of yoga

Joanna Marra learned first-hand about the powerful connection between the yoga mat and the mind, thanks to an applied research project. Marra graduated from Humber’s post-graduate Exercise Science and Lifestyle Management (ESLM) program in 2015, building on her degree in medical sciences from Brock University. Last spring, she was hired as a Research Assistant to coordinate an exciting study evaluating the impact of yoga on physical and mental outcomes.

 

Marra worked with project lead Laura Keating and industry partner Chrysalis Yoga Inc., a yoga studio based in Burlington. The owners of Chrysalis wanted to evaluate how attending classes at their yoga studio could impact physical and mental health. “Everyone knows yoga is good for you,” said Keating. “But Chrysalis wanted to show the positive benefits of attending class in their studio.” During the study, a group of 26 sedentary women, aged 22 to 65 years, were randomly divided into two groups – 16 attended yoga classes at Chrysalis, while 10 refrained from taking part in any exercise program. Participants attended one of three different sessions that ran for 12 weeks each, from June 2015 to March 2016.

 

All participants had a comprehensive evaluation that included cardiovascular fitness, mental health (depression, anxiety, stress) as well as perceived social support and various assessments of learning and memory. Marra was in charge of completing the physical assessments – testing strength and agility through exercises like planks and wall sits. She also recorded body fat levels, blood pressure, heart rates and other fitness indicators. She also learned how to evaluate the mental health and cognitive function of the participants, and trained a group of new ESLM students, Brooke Burrowes, Breann Glasier and Victoria Galletta, in the fall of 2015. This gave Marra the chance to be a leader and mentor. “That was a very cool experience for me,” she said. “In our post-grad program we did a ton of fitness assessments,” continued Marra. “That’s where we learned hands-on experience, but this was the first time I applied them to a real-world project. I loved being able to apply my knowledge from my classes directly to this work.”

 

That experience included overseeing verbal and memory tests and collecting and compiling data from reports that examined health-related quality of life measures, in collaboration with experts from McMaster University, Drs. Sue Becker, Margaret McKinnon, Benicio Frey and Roberto Sassi. “Working with Laura really opened my eyes to cognitive and social benefits of exercise, which has been amazing,” said Marra. For assessing the impact of going to the studio, the team looked at “perceived social support scales” from the National Institutes of Health. These scales measure a person’s feelings of friendship, loneliness, and connection to a social support system. “Right now we have a pretty significant result in decreased stress in the yoga group, which was expected,” said Keating. “The people that went to the yoga studio also had improvements in their feelings of community. The research suggests that how connected you feel to other people may be associated with mental health.”

 

Further proof of these findings: some of the study’s participants have signed up for yoga memberships at Chrysalis. One has just completed her training to become a yoga teacher. Marra has since landed her first full-time job as a fitness and wellness coordinator with Mississauga-based Tri-Fit. She will be conducting health screenings, fitness assessments, personal training, as well as instructing fitness classes. “I’m super excited, but I will really miss Humber,” she said. “Every day I came here, I put my brain to use and was always learning new things, and this study embodied that.”

Funding for this project has been provided by: