A Healthier Wisconsin

Iyengar Yoga as a Probe of Prolonged Grief Disorder Neurobiology

Advancing understanding of the neurobiology of PGD to improve clinical recovery of older individuals

Full Project Name:Iyengar Yoga as a Probe of Prolonged Grief Disorder NeurobiologyPrincipal Investigator:Joseph S. Goveas, MD, Psychiatry and Behavioral MedicineCo-Investigator:Keri R. Hainsworth, PhD, Anesthesiology; Cecilia J. Hillard, PhD, Pharmacology and Toxicology; Yang Wang, MD, PhD, Radiology; Barney Douglas Ward, BiophysicsAward Amount:$250,000
Award Date
Project Duration:24 months

Project Description Narrative:

Over 52,000 individuals die in Wisconsin annually. Each death leaves approximately five grieving people behind. Most grieving adults recover their pre-loss functioning within one year.

However, for about 10% of grieving adults, acute grief becomes protracted and debilitating, leading to the development of prolonged grief disorder (PGD), a clinically diagnosable mental health condition that increases the risk for poorer medical, mental health, and cognitive outcomes as well as lower quality of life, premature mortality, and suicide. Despite the magnitude of this problem, the neurobiology of PGD in older adults is poorly understood.

Mind-body interventions, particularly yoga, are nonpharmacologic approaches that are increasingly popular among older adults. Yoga can improve depressive and anxiety symptoms, improve cognitive function, and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. The Iyengar style of yoga is particularly well-suited for older adults. Extrapolating from studies that have shown the positive impact of the components of Iyengar yoga on mental health, provide a sound rationale that it may also aid clinical recovery in older individuals with PGD.

Through this award, investigators aim to enhance the understanding of the neurobiology underlying PGD through the use of Iyengar yoga and evaluation of its impact on the endocannabinoid signaling system and emotion processing brain function. They also plan to explore if this style of yoga improves grief symptoms by modifying the endocannabinoid signaling system and emotion processing brain function in those with PGD.

Project Updates:

  • Screened 138 potential participants for the grief disorder intervention project and conducting initial clinical visits
  • Enrolled approximately 30 individuals to complete the ten-week Iyengar Yoga intervention program
  • Added an additional certified lyengar Yoga instructor to the project
  • The program is the first of its kind to examine neurobiological effects of this type of yoga in patients with Prolonged Grief Disorder

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