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Mind & Body Research

A Closer Look at Yoga Nidra: Sleep Lab Analyses

Principal Investigator: Erica Sharpe, PhD 

This research study investigated the effects of a mind/body practice called yoga nidra on brainwave patterns, heart rate variability, and respiratory rate as possible indicators of the ability of this practice to induce sleep. Yoga nidra is a meditation technique, and one of the easiest yoga practices to develop and maintain.

Participants, ages 18-45, with trouble sleeping, completed two study visits at the Helfgott Research Institute. During visits, they completed questionnaires, practiced Yoga Nidra, and were monitored by three instruments. The study was completed in March, 2019 and data analysis is currently underway.

The Effect of Respiration Rate during Pranayama Practice on the Autonomic Nervous System

Principal Investigator: Alison Lacombe, PhD

Breathing techniques are commonly advocated for relaxation, stress management and wellness. In yoga practice the term “Pranayama” refers to the conscious regulation of breath and is postulated to have specific physiological effects. This study investigated the relationship between Pranayama and relaxation. Physiological markers of the autonomic nervous system (heart rate variability and EEG) were measuring during deep breathing practices and compared to a control group. The study data is currently being analyzed.

Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction for Multiple Sclerosis

Principal Investigator: Angela Senders, ND, MCR

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most common neurological condition affecting adults under 50 in the United States. MS symptoms are diverse and unpredictable and include impaired mobility, chronic pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairment. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week evidence-based mindfulness program that includes meditation, group discussion, and education on the relationship between mindfulness, stress and wellness. Years of research show that MBSR is effective in treating stress, anxiety, pain, fatigue and improving overall quality of life.

This study was designed to assess the feasibility of utilizing MBSR for people with MS, and to evaluate the efficacy of MBSR compared to an education control group. The MBSR group attended an eight-week MBSR program consisting of weekly two-hour classes. Participants were instructed in mindfulness meditation, breath work, yoga postures, self-reflection and awareness. The control group attended an eight-week series that utilized educational material provided by the National MS Society including such topics as medications and supplements, fatigue, pain and financial planning, as well as facilitated discussions and the viewing of documentaries about stress, mood and self-efficacy. The control group was not instructed in any mindfulness-based education.

Results indicated that MBSR is a feasible intervention for MS – participants were successfully enrolled and most completed the majority of study visits and activities. Symptoms such as perceived stress, anxiety, depression and fatigue improved in both MBSR and control groups, along with tests of cognitive processing. However, differences in improvement between the groups was not statistically significant. More research is needed to study the impact of mindfulness-based training for emotional health in patients with MS.

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Environmental Influence on Holistic Health Measures

Principal Investigator:  Kurt Beil, ND, LAc, MPH

Environmental settings are not commonly considered in therapeutic medical interventions, however recent studies have shown that a “healthy settings” approach to health promotion can significantly influence health and disease status. Most of the previous studies in this area have been observational or conducted in controlled laboratory settings. This study aimed to use real-world environments to assess physiological and psychological measures of health, as well as to assess the feasibility of qualitative and quantitative data collection in various environmental settings.

The seven study participants completed an initial assessment of physiological and psychological health and well being in a lab setting. They were then transported to a new environment – in nature, an urban area or an indoor, windowless auditorium – where they were asked to sit for 20 minutes uninterrupted. After sitting, physiological and psychological measurements were taken again to reassess health and well being, as well as an informal, qualitative interview. Each study participant was asked to complete three study visits in order to experience all three environmental settings.

The overall trends reported suggest that between-setting differences did occur. Specifically, the positive effect of exposure to the nature setting suggests a restorative and stress-reducing experience, especially contrasted with the indoor setting. Given the many limitations of this study, no definitive conclusions can be made from these results. However, the results do support the hypotheses and findings of researchers and are consistent with general human experience. It is possible that future experimental studies could assess environmental settings to determine if natural spaces can be used as additional components to established therapies. In addition, environmental features’ ability to determine health status could be measured and included in the design of optimal clinical healthcare settings and community accessible public spaces.

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The Influence of Urban Natural and Built Environments on Physiological and Psychological Measures of Stress

Principal Investigator:  Kurt Beil, ND, LAc, MPH

Evidence suggests that natural environments reduce stress more than urban environments.  However much of this research is conducted in controlled laboratory settings with photographic or video images.  Very few studies have attempted to examine how real-world experiences of different environments influence levels of stress.

This study investigated the effects of four different environmental settings on physiological and psychological measures of stress. Thirty-two participants were exposed to four settings ranked as “very natural”, “mostly natural”, “mostly urban” and “very urban”. Their stress was measured by comparing objective physiological markers and subjective psychological scales before and after exposure.  Participants’ pre-existing level of stress, their familiarity with each setting, and feedback about their experience in each setting was used in data analysis.  Environmental variables such as ambient temperature and noise was also measured.

Differences between environmental settings showed greater benefit from exposure to natural settings relative to built settings, as measured by physiological measures of stress and self-reported stress. Both positive and negative differences were more significant for females than for males. Perceived restorativeness was predictive of actual stress measures. These data suggest that exposure to natural environments may warrant further investigation as a health promotion method for reducing stress.

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Magnets and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Principal Investigator: Agatha Colbert, MD

It is estimated that between 1 and 3 percent of Americans suffer from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). Therapeutic magnets are being used as a self-help treatment by many sufferers of CTS, and despite the widespread use of permanent magnets limited data on their safety and efficacy is available. Only two research studies have tested whether magnets are indeed helpful for this condition, and they produced contradictory results.

The objective of this pilot study was to determine the feasibility of recruiting and retaining CTS participants for a therapeutic magnet study, obtain data on the effectiveness and safety of active magnets and controls and explore whether nerve recovery occurs as a result of therapeutic magnet use. 60 participants wore either a therapeutic magnet that was one of two different strengths or a non-magnetic disc (control) to bed nightly for 6 weeks. Participants then responded to a questionnaire regarding the severity of CTS symptoms.

Results indicated that there were no significant differences in symptom severity when comparing the intervention groups to the control group. However, each of the three groups, including the control, showed improvement in symptoms over the 6-week trial period. Future studies are needed to resolve issues related to the use of controls in the trials and to optimize magnetic strength to maximize effectiveness.

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