Does Yoga Reduce Anxiety? A Study on GABA Levels

does yoga reduce stressSo many people who practice yoga expound on its virtues.  I’ve heard many talk about the physical and emotional benefits of yoga, which basically is a rudimentary form of biohacking.  People say it makes them feel good, calm, peaceful.  Since it’s a practice that’s been around for thousands of years and the people who practice it certainly tend to look healthy and relaxed, I was curious if there was research to back up the benefits I often hear about.

As a form of exercise, it makes sense that yoga has both physical and mental benefits.  Exercise triggers the release of endorphins, those natural chemicals in the body that produce a feeling of well-being. This release of endorphins is part of why exercise, in DBT, is considered key to reducing emotional vulnerability.

If you find that your emotions are often swinging wildly from one extreme to the next or that small events have the ability to trigger extreme emotion for you, then there may be some simple lifestyle changes that you can make to dramatically reduce the intensity and frequency of your painful emotions.  Along with balanced eating and sleep, getting regular exercise is one of those lifestyle changes.

Yoga has long shown promise in alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression. A review of research on the effectiveness of yoga for the treatment of anxiety disorders in 2004 found encouraging results, but cited a need for further well conducted research.

Recently a study published in the The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that certain types of yoga sessions (a focus on yoga posture, as opposed to breathing) increase GABA levels in the brain. Anxiety is associated with low Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels.  GABA is the primary neurotransmitter known to counterbalance the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, which in the case of anxiety is over-active.

The study found that yoga participants had greater reductions in anxiety and greater improvements in mood than people who walked for exercise.  These mood improvements and reductions in anxiety were correlated to changes in GABA levels.  The increase of activity in the GABA system found using yoga postures are similar to those found with medications.

Although this is a preliminary study, its positive results do seem to warrant further research.  This new research on  the specific effects of yoga practice on the brain begins to explain why yoga improves mood and decreases symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Have you tried yoga?  Has it improved your mental health?

Photo by lulu lemon athletica, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

12 Replies to “Does Yoga Reduce Anxiety? A Study on GABA Levels”

  1. Yoga has definitely improved my mental and physical health since I made it the focus of 2010. So, for over a year I have done yoga and read about yoga pretty much every day. I look better and feel better at 42 than I did 10 years ago.

  2. I am very happy to have found your blog. Articles of this type are sorely needed.

    I have had a keen interest in all aspects of self improvement for many years. As such, I seek to find credible information on the various ways to prevent anxiety and other common stresses before they become chronic problems for myself and to share these sources with others.

    Thank you.

  3. Yoga has definitely improved my health, physically and mentally. It’s been a long, long road though, as I’ve practiced for over 10 years, starting out so green! Now I don’t know whether it’s just mellowing with age or the yoga, but I am definitely calmer and more in tune with my feelings and emotions. I still struggle with depression, but feel that exercise and yoga especially are critical tools to combat it. I think regular sleeping hours and a healthier diet are also components. There’s something about practicing yoga that helps me with all these things. It’s all entwined.

  4. I practice Yoga every day.It has brought my B.P & Thyroid medicines to half.This,when i had had to take radioactive iodine to render my thyroid glands inactive.Not only postures,even breathing exercises have done me a lot of good. I have become much more calmer & patient than i ever was.Of course one has to do it for a long span of time before one should begin to look for effects.I am all for it !

  5. Yoga used to be the cornerstone of my life. My abdominal muscles were significantly damaged by pregnancy and c-sections and I gave up my practice. This (and other factors like sleep-deprivation) led to out-of-control bipolar disorder and a major depressive episode. I’m looking forward to corrective surgery and eventually returning to my practice! Fortunately I have recovered from depression with many treatments and strategies, including yoga-based spirituality.

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