Yoga may help SUNY Canton students deal with stress

Pictured is SUNY Canton Assistant Professor Erica M. Sharpe, Ph.D., leading a yoga class in the Roos House Convocation, Athletic and Recreation Center. Sharpe will be conducting a new study on the effects of yoga in college students.

A new study has been set to determine the effects of mind and body exercises in a higher education setting.

A SUNY Canton faculty member aims to prove yoga can help students battle the stresses of college life.

Assistant Professor Erica M. Sharpe, Ph.D., is seeking student volunteers for a new four-week study to determine the effects of yoga on anxiety, mood, mindfulness, body awareness and overall mental health.

“Previous studies have shown that people are calmer after practicing yoga,” Sharpe said. “What makes this study unique is that we are attempting to measure the lasting effects of yoga in the context of academic life.”

Sharpe, who teaches chemistry at SUNY Canton, is the principal investigator for the Yoga for Mental Health in Academia Study Team. Her co-principal investigator is Laura Carim Todd, Ph.D., from Oregon Health and Science University, who has run previous studies on yoga and exercise as methods to increase self-control for smokers who want to quit.

“We hypothesize that the calming effects of a yoga practice actually continue on past the hours immediately following a class, and that these effects may help students become more focused and productive throughout the entire week,” Sharpe said.

Students will take surveys before and after a weekly yoga session, held 7 p.m. each Tuesday in the Roos House Convocation, Athletic and Recreation Center. Sharpe will also administer surveys before and after stressful academic classes to monitor the lasting effects of yoga throughout the school week.

A control group of student volunteers will also be asked to respond to the experiment questionnaires without participating in yoga classes. She hypothesizes that students in the yoga group will show less of a stress response to their academic classes than students in the non-yoga group.

As a secondary way of accumulating relevant data, Sharpe will be surveying faculty members teaching the participants’ classes to further track the students’ stress levels, mood and academic performance.

“I’m hoping to prove that yoga can affect students’ lives positively and help them handle the stresses of college in a better and more constructive way,” Sharpe said.

She hopes to conduct future versions of this study to measure cortisol levels of the participants. Cortisol is the steroid hormone that the human body releases when they are stressed.

“As the study evolves, we’d like to look at student grades and conduct simulated test-taking situations to see how students respond to stress with and without meditative exercise” Sharpe said.

The study corresponds with SUNY Canton Provost Douglas M. Scheidt’s initiative to promote new faculty research. “By linking professional practice with academic research we can create new opportunities to enhance and promote SUNY Canton’s mission,” Scheidt said.

The first trial is scheduled to begin April 11. Students interested in participating in the study should email YMHA@canton.edu.

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