Yoga’s Role in Helping with Depression and Anxiety

Yoga is the answer to perfecting the body, easing the mind, and cultivating the wisdom of the spirit. A traditional yoga practice utilizes meditation and breathing exercises known as Pranayama and Asanas. These are the physical postures, which I am sure, you must have seen hundreds of times on a yoga DVD or online yoga video. Yoga promotes abstention from harmful behaviors, such as smoking and overindulgence in alcohol, and encourages healthy dietary changes and promotes mental clarity through meditation and relaxation. There are a lot of health benefits of yoga, physical as well as spiritual. Here we shall discuss the effects of yoga on human mind.

Many studies have shown that exercise can help with anxiety and depression. It was never completely certain, however, which types of exercise gave the most benefit. Yoga was taken into consideration, along with other types of exercise, for a study that was conducted at the Boston University School of Medicine. It compared walking vs. yoga’s effects on anxiety and depression to assess health benefits of yoga. The results showed that the practice of yoga improved emotions and moods more effectively than just walking, by enhancing the production of GABA, a neurotransmitter in the brain. GABA, known as gamma amino butyric acid, reduces anxiety and enhances relaxation. It is the main inhibitory or calming neurotransmitter in the nervous system.

The study was based on 19 people practicing yoga for 60 minutes, three times weekly, for 12 weeks. Similarly, 15 participants did a walking program for the same period of time. The moods of the participants and levels of GABA in the brain were assessed at the beginning and end of the trial period. At the end of 12 weeks the findings were not just interesting, but quite amazing, confirming the health benefits. The people who had engaged in yoga had a much greater improvement in their moods and less anxiety than the walking group. They also had higher levels of GABA in the brain as measured on an MRI scan.

In another study from Boston University in 2007, it showed that a one-hour yoga session resulted in elevated GABA levels in the brain and that GABA levels increased by 27% in the yoga group compared with absolutely no change in the other group. This was the first study of its kind to show that a modality such as yoga contributed to elevated GABA levels in the brain.

Prescription Medications for Depression

Many prescription medications work by increasing GABA levels in the brain and they contain Benzodiazepines. Valium, Ativan, Restoril and Ambien are just a few of the many in this category of drugs. They reduce anxiety and induce sleep. But the problem is that these drugs are habit-forming. Once taken on a regular basis they are difficult to stop, not to mention the other side-effects that these drugs may cause.

By practicing yoga, you will diminish anxiety and reduce the need for prescription and over-the-counter habit forming drugs. Your body will get many health benefits of yoga that will be felt in countless ways, including flexibility, balance, muscle strengthening, better concentration and a natural relaxation response. Once a regular yoga practice is formulated, it can benefit numerous medical conditions that may eventually no longer require medication.

Yoga has been proven to help with not only strengthening the body and increasing flexibility, but also in lowering high blood pressure, reversing heart disease, alleviating asthma, reducing the pain of arthritis, chronic back pain and Fibromyalgia, just to name a few. The practice of yoga requires no special equipment or gym memberships, the only things you need are a yoga DVD by a certified instructor and a willingness to learn some of the basics. Once you begin a yoga practice, you will feel the results and just may become a regular practitioner!

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