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Shirley Telles, S. Nrendran, P. Raghuraj, R. Nagarathna and H. R. Nagendra

Vivekananda Kendra Yoga Research Foundation, Bangalore, India.

(Accepted November 25, 1996)  

Summary: The heart rate, breathing rate, and skin resistance were recorded for 20 community home girls (Home group) and for 20 age-matched girls from a regular school (School group). The former group had a significantly higher rate of breathing and a more irregular breath pattern, known to correlate with high fear and anxiety, than the School group. Skin resistance was significantly lower in the School group, which may suggest greater arousal. 28 girls of the Home group formed 14 pairs, matched for age and duration of stay in the home. Subjects of a pair were randomly assigned to either yoga or games groups. For the former, emphasis was on relaxation and awareness, whereas for the latter increasing physical activity was emphasized. At the end of an hour daily for six months both groups showed a significant decrease in the resting heart rate relative to initial values (Wilcoxon paired-sample test), and the yoga group showed a significant decrease in breath rate, which appeared more regular but no significant increase in the skin resistance. These results suggest that a yoga program which includes relaxation, awareness, and graded physical activity is a useful addition to the routine of community home children.

 From Finland, reports are available on the psychophysiological status of children with problems at home, in school, or in society, who are admitted to community homes, governed by special legislation (Ahvenainen, Lindholm, & Nikkanen, 1984). These children were described as physically normally developed but were socially and emotionally traumatized. They were also reported to describe more anxiety and fears than is usual and to be extra aggressive. A report on physiological measures showed that the resting electrical activity of selected facial and back muscles (EMG) was significantly higher in Community Home boys than in a Control group of the same age in an ordinary school (Rauhala, Alho, Hanninen, & Helin, 1990). This was considered likely increased by stress. After four months of relaxation training combined with increased physical activity, the EMG measures of the Community Home group decreased compared to their baseline values as well as compared to the initial values of the Control group.

The present study was conducted with girls in a community home in South India, who (like the children in Finland described above) were admitted due to problems in adjusting at home or in society. The aim was to examine whether there would be differences in standard psychophysiological measures (heart rate, skin resistance, and breath rate and pattern) of these girls compared to girls of the same age who were staying at home and attending a regular school. This was the first part of the study.

In the second part of the study, a comparison was made of the effects of two interventions (yoga and games) on the same measures recorded for Community Home girls. The routine of the community home included education, work, and psychotherapy. Yoga or games were introduced for the first time. Yoga emphasizes relaxation with awareness, whereas playing games was intended to increase the physical activity. The reason for selecting these interventions can be understood from previous reports. Increased physical activity has been shown to reduce autonomic reactivity to mental stressors (Steptoe, Kearsley, & Walters, 1993). Also, the practice of yoga reduces autonomic arousal (Wallace, Benson, & Wilson, 1971; Joseph, Sridharan, Patil, Kumaria, Selvamurthy, Joseph, & Nayar, 1981). The study allowed comparison of the effects of relaxation with those of increased physical activity, which had been combined in the previous study of children in a community home (Rauhala, et al., 1990)

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