Restorative Yoga Study & Results

28 Nov

In my Biology course at Western Washington University, we were assigned a 2-hour service project of our choosing: we were to make a video documenting our service and at least 3 points of connection to topics we covered in class over the course of the quarter.  I was excited to integrate yoga into this project, and nearly as soon as I designed the study, a Free Restorative Yoga Workshop, I all 7 participants had signed up.  Please enjoy my final video or peruse the details of the study below.

As a service project in my Biology course at Western Washington University, I chose to offer a Free Restorative Yoga Workshop to my community. Within the workshop, I conducted a simple physiology study measuring the effects of Restorative Yoga on Stress. Here are the results.

More at


“If you practice Restorative Yoga (passive yoga with an emphasis on breathing and meditation), stress will decrease, pain will decrease, pulse will decrease and oxygen saturation will increase.”


Restorative Yoga is a gentle and passive practice designed to promote healing on deep emotional and physical levels. Taught with an emphasis on breathing, meditation, and with precise attention to body alignment in the carefully-planned and sequenced postures, this practice is accessible to nearly anyone.

I used a questionnaire for participants to rate their pain and stress levels on a 0-10 scale before and after the workshop.  I also used a pulse oximeter to measure blood oxygen saturation and heart rate.


The graph below shows oxygen levels at the start of the workshop (the 0 hour), halfway through the workshop (the 1 hour) and at the end of the workshop (the 2 hour).  6 participants’ oxygen saturation levels did not support my hypothesis: instead of increasing, as I was predicting because of the emphasis on slow, deep breathing, their levels decreased during the workshop and then increased again once they sat upright at the end and I took the readings one last time.  One possible confound for my study of oxygen saturation: it is possible that participants got so relaxed that they forgot to engage in the deep, diaphragmatic breathing.


Heart rate results supported my hypothesis: rates declined to their lowest level at the middle of the study, then increased again but not to the level of the start.


Here is a graph of the average level of pain and stress for all participants for before and after the workshop.  Both stress and pain decreased significantly from the start to the end of the workshop.

StressPainThis final graph outlines the average percent change from the start to the end of class.  Oxygen Saturation showed a zero percent change.  Heart rate decreased 19%.  Pain decreased 32%.  Stress decreased 63%.

% Change


My results showing that yoga is correlated to a reduction in pain are supported by studies measuring yoga’s impact on issues from fibromyalgia to chronic low back pain. One of the participants in this study reported to me that she walked in with a migraine, and it was nearly gone by the end of the workshop.

Yoga is becoming widely known in the medical community as an antidote to stress, and the results of my study reflect this finding.  For these reasons, yoga is being used increasingly in clinical settings for anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.

Restorative yoga appears to be correlated with a reduced heart rate, which may be why we see the reduction in stress and pain: the parasympathetic nervous system is activated through deep, slow, controlled breathing, causing the stress hormone cortisol to lower and the relaxation response to activate. This can be an empowering realization for an individual who deals with stress and learns tools for helping to control this response.

I hypothesized that a yoga class with emphasis on deep breathing would increase blood oxygen saturation–especially given what we learned in class about slow oxidative and fast glycolygic muscle fibers. In this case, the intensity of exercise was quite low, so participants were obtaining energy in the form of ATP by way of Oxidative Phosphorylation–the slow oxidative process. However, deep breathing does not appear to impact oxygen saturation in this case. There is a possible confound in my study: Perhaps participants were so relaxed that they stopped deep breathing altogether.

Beyond this Study

Yoga as a life strategy has been around for over 5000 years.  The practices of yoga have been perfected, replicated, and repeated uncountable times since then.  In the most ancient texts, before our time of mathematics and measurements, there were accurate recordings of things like the speed of light by ancient yogis.  One could think of yoga as the greatest body of empirical evidence in the world, due to so many trails over such a vast period of time.  Western science is now investigating yogic principles, and many of these teachings are being supported by scientific studies.  It is my goal to help further this work.

I personally resonated with the idea of the Scientific Method as Life Strategy because it encourages curiosity, awareness, and mindfulness–as does yoga.  Through observation, a clearer and clearer picture of life emerges.

For example, in science, as we learn that eutrophication destroys the very life systems that sustain us–by polluting our water, killing our fish and creating huge dead zones on our oceans–we can use these facts to inform our decisions about things like whether to use synthetic fertilizer or compost in our gardens.  We can come to a way of seeing the world that is most true, and then derive action from that vision.

What yoga offers beyond the purely objective realm of science is something that I think can help us to navigate through the biggest crisis of our time: Climate Change.   Science shows us that we must act now.

“If we start this year–2013–and if we achieve a 6% global reduction in carbon emissions this year and every subsequent year, and if we begin a massive global reforestation and soil sequestration campaign, we can keep the temperature rise on Earth below 2 degrees centigrade. If we wait until 2020, it’s 15% reduction a year. If we wait until 2030, we have run out of time.” -James Hanson, NASA Climate Scientist

Like Kathleen Dean-Moore said in her Vanishing Ice Talk (and in the incredible book, On Moral Ground), Climate Change is a moral dilemma.  And I’m posing that Yoga offers us a system combining the scientific approach with mindfulness and a framework for action: a way to navigate that dilemma, and create a world that is supportive of life’s systems.

Yoga teaches us that our inner reality becomes manifest in our lives, and that our outer world is reflected within.  This suggests that as we purify our outer worlds, we will enjoy reduced rates of stress, cancer, hypertension, even diabetes.  And as we purify our thoughts, emotions, and actions, our outer world will become more beautiful, diverse, and life-sustaining.  We live in a time of transition, and the gifts of yoga coupled with science provide us with the tools we need to shape the future of our species and the planet.

Thank you and Namaste.


There are a thousand ways
to kneel and kiss the earth.




Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School.  “Natural Patterns of Sleep.” accessed 11/25/13.

Raub, James A. “Psychophysiologic Effects of Hatha Yoga on Musculoskeletal and Cardiopulmonary Function: A Literature Review” Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine. December 2002, 8(6): 797-812.

Satyapriya, Maharana, et. al. “Effect off integrated yoga on stress and heart rate variability in pregnant women.”  Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics.  2009 March; 104(3): 218-22.

Sovik, Rolf.  “The Science of Breathing – The Yogic View.”  Progress in Brain Research.  1999; Vol 122: 491-505.

Wren, Anava A., et al. “Yoga for Persistent Pain: New Findings and Directions for an Ancient Practice.”  Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain.  2011 March; 152(3): 447-80.

“Restorative Yoga My Way” Photo on

“Yogi Seal” Photo from

“Eutrophication” Image from


3 Responses to “Restorative Yoga Study & Results”

  1. Jessie December 11, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    Reblogged this on YOGA FOR NERDS and commented:

    I think nerds might appreciate this quasi-scientific approach to quantifying the benefits of yoga, as presented by yours truly! Click below to get the full results from my Restorative Yoga study!
    Yoga is for everyone.


  2. Jessie April 29, 2015 at 7:12 am #

    In looking at this “study,” from my first quarter at Western, I realize how much I have learned and how far I’ve come in my understanding of how to design and conduct scientific study in this brief tenure! I am working on a new yoga study in my Physiology class, and will be sure to offer updates as it progresses.



  1. 2013 Highlights | Jessie Tierney - December 26, 2013

    […] a small study investigating the effects of restorative yoga on stress and physiology.  You can see my results here.  This is the type of work I would love to be doing in PT school ~ investigating the science of […]


Join the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: