Expert yoga practitioners exhibit lower levels of inflammatory markers compared with novices, possibly due to differences in their responses to stress.
American researchers compared inflammatory and endocrine responses of novice and expert yoga practitioners before, during, and after a yoga session, as well as two control conditions. Fifty healthy women, 25 novices and 25 experts, were exposed to each of three conditions -restorative hatha yoga, movement control and passive-video control - during three separate visits. Stressors were imposed on the subjects before each of the three conditions, in order to provide data on the extent to which the interventions accelerated physiological recovery from heightened stress. Although the yoga session boosted participants' mood compared with the control conditions, no overall differences in inflammatory or endocrine responses were unique to the yoga session. However, although novices and experts did not differ on baseline characteristics (including age, abdominal adiposity, and cardiorespiratory fitness), novices' levels of serum interleukin(IL)-6 (a pro-inflammatory cytokine) were 41% higher than those of experts across sessions, and the odds of a novice having detectable C-reactive protein (CRP, a biomarker of inflammation) were 4.75 times as high as that of an expert. The authors conclude that regular yoga practice may minimise inflammatory responses to stressful encounters, reducing the burden that stressors place on an individual, and leading to substantial health benefits. (Stress, inflammation, and yoga practice. Psychosom Med. 2010 Feb;72(2):113-21).
Another US study comparing beginner and advanced practitioners suggests that yoga is an effective technique for enhancing mindfulness and decreasing stress levels. Fifty-two hatha yoga practitioners were designated as either beginners (under five years experience) or advanced practitioners (over five years experience). The advanced participants were found to score significantly higher in mindfulness levels and significantly lower in stress levels compared to beginners Additionally, a significant negative correlation was found between mindfulness and stress levels. (Mindfulness and Levels of Stress: A Comparison of Beginner and Advanced Hatha Yoga Practitioners. J Relig Health. 2009 Dec 1. [Epub ahead of print]).