Yoga Therapy Cold Retreat, 2019 – Initial Findings
1. Aims of the research
The therapeutic effects of yoga, spending time in nature and cold immersion are becoming increasingly evident in psychological research. Recent studies have started to document how these modalities can lead to improvements in anxiety and depression.
There are various reasons why these modalities might have such a positive impact on mental health. The most obvious being participating in physical activity, but other important factors might be engaging in a group activity and experiencing flow states.
Flow is the optimal state of total absorption in the current task you are doing; be it running, yoga, painting, or playing an instrument. Everything else disappears and you are completely in the zone. Positive Spirit retreats are based on integrating flow through yoga and cold immersion and activities in nature, as well as encouraging interoception and engaging in group activities.
Evidence-based practice is fundamental to our ethos, therefore I carried out an analysis of our Yoga Therapy Cold immersion retreat in 2019.. This intervention study was conducted to investigate whether taking part in these retreats can result to improvements in mental health.
Our key research question was to investigate whether there were significant differences in anxiety and depression between pre-retreat and post-retreat.
2. Details of the study
In this study, anxiety, depression were measured at baseline (preretreat) and post-retreat. Baseline scores were taken on the first day before treatment began, and post-retreat scores were taken on the last day before departure. 10 participants took part. The retreat consisted of 6 days.
Each participant was enrolled in the following schedule:
7am-8am: Yoga, Qigong, Breathing
10am-12.30am: Group activity in nature, either silent walk, snowshoe hiking or cross country skiing with focus on connecting with nature.
13.00 – 14.30: Lunch and down time
14.30-17.00: Deep breathing, Cold immersion followed by sauna visit
20.00 onwards: Yoga Nidra
3. Main research findings
• Significant reduction in anxiety
• Significant reduction in depression
• Significant improvement in outlook following trauma
Anxiety was measured using the standardised Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD-7) questionnaire, which is highly reliable and commonly used in NHS practice in the UK.
A paired sampled t test showed a statistically significant improvement in anxiety from baseline to post-retreat, whereby the mean score was reduced from 10.2 before retreat to 2.4 post retreat.
Depression was measured using the PHQ-9, a standardised measure commonly used in clinical practise alongside the GAD-7.
Here, a significant reduction was also found in mean depression score (p=.001). The average score before the retreat was 9.2 , and this dropped to 3.2 following the retreat. According to the PHQ-9 guidelines, this depression score lowered from the moderate end of the moderately depression category to the lower end, minimal or none, of the depression category.
4. Interpreting he findings and next steps
The research findings detailed above suggest that attending the Positive Spirit retreat was associated with improved anxiety and depression. However, some caution must be taken when interpreting the findings. Firstly the structure only accommodates a small group. In terms of research it is a very small sample and lacks statistical power, therefore strong claims can not be made based on the findings, also there appears to be a lot of variation in the scores in that some of the standard deviations are high. This could be because of the high variability of causes and severity of the levels of anxiety or depression in the group.
Another point to note is that while the measures used are reliable and have been validated in previous research, there are limitations to the depth of data that can be retrieved from questionnaires.