, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 512–520 | Cite as

Mindfulness Training, Yoga, or Both? Dismantling the Active Components of a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Intervention

  • Melissa Hunt
  • Farah Al-Braiki
  • Shannon Dailey
  • Rachel Russell
  • Krystyna Simon


Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can help college students cope effectively with stress, reducing negative affect in the short term and resulting in higher (more adaptive) heart rate variability (HRV). However, HRV is a measure of cardiovascular fitness, as well as parasympathetic control of the stress response. MBSR is a multicomponent intervention and it is unclear to what extent movement, including gentle yoga, mindfulness training, or the synergy between the two, has an impact on emotional and physiological outcomes. The current study dismantled yoga and explicit mindfulness training in a brief stress reduction intervention in college students. Participants were randomly assigned to either mindfulness training and meditation alone (no movement); yoga alone (no explicit mindfulness training); combined yoga and mindfulness training and meditation; an active placebo control consisting of study breaks with party games, access to a therapy dog, and healthful snacks; or a no-treatment control. All active treatments resulted in decreases in anxiety and dysphoria over the 4 weeks of treatment relative to the no-treatment control, although by week 4, only the combined and yoga groups were significantly different from the control group on both measures. The no-treatment control group showed the lowest HRV at rest and during the challenge. The combined and yoga groups showed the highest HRV at rest, followed by moderate declines in HRV during the challenge, suggesting adaptive vagal withdrawal. The mindfulness training alone group was the only group to show no decrease in HRV during the challenge, suggesting that they were the least stressed by the challenge.


Mindfulness Stress management Yoga Anxiety Heart rate variability Meditation 


Author Contributions

MH: designed the study, trained the other authors in the MBSR component interventions, analyzed the data, and wrote the paper. FA and SD: helped design the study; implemented the MBSR component interventions; helped enter, clean, and analyze the data; and collaborated in writing the paper. RR: helped design the mindfulness intervention, helped implement the interventions, helped enter and clean the self-report data, and cleaned and analyzed the HRV data. KS: helped design the placebo control intervention, helped implement the interventions, helped enter and clean the self-report data, and cleaned and analyzed the HRV data. Both RR and KS also collaborated in editing the final MS.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in the study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional review board at the university where the research was carried out and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Abousiere, R. (1994). Sources and levels of stress in relation to locus of control and self esteem in university students. Educational Psychology, 14(3), 323–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American College Health Association. (2008). National college health assessment spring 2007 reference group data report (abridged). Journal of American College Health, 56(5), 469–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Appelhans, B. M., & Luecken, L. J. (2006). Heart rate variability as an index of regulated emotional responding. Review of General Psychology, 10, 229–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A., & Garbin, M. G. (1988). Psychometric properties of the Beck Depression Inventory: twenty-five years of evaluation. Clinical Psychology Review, 8(1), 77–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A., & Brown, G. K. (1996). Manual for the Beck Depression Inventory (2nd ed.). San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation, Harcourt, Brace.Google Scholar
  6. Brougham, R. R., Zail, C. M., Mendoza, C. M., & Miller, J. R. (2009). Stress, sex differences, and coping strategies among college students. Current Psychology, 28, 85–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burg, J. M., Wolf, O. T., & Michalak, J. (2012). Mindfulness as self-regulated attention. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 71, 135–139.Google Scholar
  8. Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: a review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(5), 593–600.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Deckro, G. R., Ballinger, K. M., Hoyt, M., Wilcher, M., Dusek, J., Myers, P., et al. (2002). The evaluation of a mind/body intervention to reduce psychological distress and perceived stress in college students. Journal of American College Health, 50(6), 281–287.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Dishman, R. K., Nakamura, Y., Garcia, M. E., Thompson, R. W., Dunn, A. L., & Blair, S. N. (2000). Heart rate variability, trait anxiety, and perceived stress among physically fit men and women. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 37(2), 121–133.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Eberth, J., & Sedlmeier, P. (2012). The effects of mindfulness meditation: a meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 3(3), 174–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gallegos, A. M., Hoerger, M., Talbot, N. L., Krasner, M. S., Knight, J. M., Moynihan, J. A., & Duberstein, P. R. (2013). Toward identifying the effects of the specific components of mindfulness-based stress reduction on biologic and emotional outcomes among older adults. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19(10), 787–792.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  13. Graziano, P., & Derefinko, K. (2013). Cardiac vagal control and children’s adaptive functioning: a meta-analysis. Biological Psychology, 94(1), 22–37.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  14. Hudd, S. S., Dumlao, J., Erdmann-Sager, D., Murray, D., Phan, E., Soukas, N., & Yokozuka, N. (2000). Stress at college: effects on health habits, health status and self-esteem. College Student Journal, 34(2), 217–228.Google Scholar
  15. Jain, S., Shapiro, S. L., Swanick, S., Roesch, S. C., Mills, P. J., et al. (2007). A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation versus relaxation training: effects on distress, positive states of mind, rumination, and distraction. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 33(1), 11–21.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Kabat-Zinn, J., & Hanh, T. N. (2009). Full catastrophe living: using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Delta.Google Scholar
  17. Kadison, R., & DiGeronimo, T. F. (2004). College of the overwhelmed: the campus mental health crisis and what to do about it. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  18. Kase, C., Rivera, N., & Hunt, M. (2016). The psychological effects of sorority recruitment: a question of self-selection. Oracle: The Research Journal of the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, 11(1), 1–16.Google Scholar
  19. Krygier, J. R., Heathers, J. A., Shahrestani, S., Abbott, M., Gross, J. J., & Kemp, A. H. (2013). Mindfulness meditation, well-being, and heart rate variability: a preliminary investigation into the impact of intensive Vipassana meditation. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 89(3), 305–313.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Marcovitch, S., Leigh, J., Calkins, S. D., Leerks, E. M., O’Brien, M., & Blankson, A. N. (2010). Moderate vagal withdrawal in 3.5-year-old children is associated with optimal performance on executive function tasks. Developmental Psychobiology, 52(6), 603–608.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  21. Misra, R., & McKean, M. (2000). College students’ academic stress and its relation to their anxiety, time management, and leisure satisfaction. American Journal of Health Studies, 16(1), 41–51.Google Scholar
  22. Nunan, D., Sandercock, G. R., & Brodie, D. A. (2010). A quantitative systematic review of normal values for short-term heart rate variability in healthy adults. Pacing and Clinical Electrophysiology, 33(11), 1407–1417.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Pal, G. K. (2015). Yoga and heart rate variability. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Physiology, 2(1), 2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Pritchard, M. E., Wilson, G. S., & Yamnitz, B. (2007). What predicts adjustment among college students? A longitudinal panel study. Journal of American College Health, 56(1), 15–22.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Rosenzweig, S., Reibel, D. K., Greeson, J. M., Brainard, G. C., & Hojat, M. (2003). Mindfulness-based stress reduction lowers psychological distress in medical students. Teaching and Learning in Medicine, 15(2), 88–92.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Sandercock, G. R., Bromley, P. D., & Brodie, D. A. (2005). Effects of exercise on heart rate variability: inferences from meta-analysis. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 37(3), 433–439.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Sax, L. J. (1997). Health trends among college freshmen. Journal of American College Health, 45(6), 252–262.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Shearer, A., Hunt, M., Chowdhury, M., & Nicol, L. (2015). Effects of a brief mindfulness meditation intervention on student stress and heart rate variability. International Journal of Stress Management. Advance online publication. doi:
  29. Spielberger, C.D., & Gorsuch, R.L. (1983).  Manual for the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (Form Y) ("Self-Evaluation Questionnaire). Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press.Google Scholar
  30. Spielberger, C. D., Gorsuch, R. L., & Lushene, R. E. (1970). STAI: manual for the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press.Google Scholar
  31. Struthers, C. W., Perry, R. P., & Menec, V. H. (2000). An examination of the relationship among academic stress, coping, motivation and performance in college. Research in Higher Education, 41(5), 581–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Tang, Y., Hölzel, B. K., & Posner, M. I. (2015). The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(4), 213–225.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Tarvainen, M. P., & Niskanen, J. (2012). Kubios HRV version 2.1 user’s guide. Finland: University of Eastern Finland.Google Scholar
  34. Task Force of the European Society of Cardiology and the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology. (1996). Heart rate variability: standards of measurement, physiological interpretation and clinical use. Circulation, 93, 1043–1065.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Thayer, J. F., Hansen, A. L., Saus-Rose, E., & Johnsen, B. H. (2009). Heart rate variability, prefrontal neural function, and cognitive performance: the neurovisceral integration perspective on self-regulation, adaptation, and health. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 37(2), 141–153.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Thayer, J. F., Åhs, F., Fredrikson, M., Sollers, J. J., & Wager, T. D. (2012). A meta-analysis of heart rate variability and neuroimaging studies: implications for heart rate variability as a marker of stress and health. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 36(2), 747–756.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: the PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(6), 1063.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Wechsler, D. (2008). Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale IV. San Antonio, TX: Harcourt Assessment Inc.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melissa Hunt
    • 1
  • Farah Al-Braiki
    • 1
  • Shannon Dailey
    • 1
  • Rachel Russell
    • 1
  • Krystyna Simon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

Personalised recommendations