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J Consult Clin Psychol. 2016 Jun;84(6):558-64. doi: 10.1037/ccp0000091. Epub 2016 Mar 10.

Heated hatha yoga to target cortisol reactivity to stress and affective eating in women at risk for obesity-related illnesses: A randomized controlled trial.

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Department of Psychology, Southern Methodist University.



Cortisol reactivity to stress is associated with affective eating, an important behavioral risk factor for obesity and related metabolic diseases. Yoga practice is related to decreases in stress and cortisol levels, thus emerging as a potential targeted complementary intervention for affective eating. This randomized controlled trial examined the efficacy of a heated, hatha yoga intervention for reducing cortisol reactivity to stress and affective eating.


Females (N = 52; ages 25-46 years; 75% White) at risk for obesity and related illnesses were randomly assigned to 8 weeks of Bikram Yoga practice or to waitlist control. Cortisol reactivity to a laboratory stress induction were measured at Weeks 0 (pretreatment) and 9 (posttreatment). Self-reported binge eating frequency and coping motives for eating were assessed at Weeks 0, 3, 6, and 9.


Among participants with elevated cortisol reactivity at pretreatment ("high reactors"), those randomized to the yoga condition evidenced greater pre- to posttreatment reductions in cortisol reactivity (p = .042, d = .85), but there were not significant condition differences for the "low reactors" (p = .178, d = .53). Yoga participants reported greater decreases in binge eating frequency (p = .040, d = .62) and eating to cope with negative affect (p = .038, d = .54).


This study provides preliminary support for the efficacy of heated hatha yoga for treating physiological stress reactivity and affective eating among women at risk for obesity-related illnesses. (PsycINFO Database Record

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