The Yogini from Manila

Can Depression and Anxiety Be Treated By Yoga?


Now here’s something interesting I came across.

Up till this time, I have strongly believed in the benefits of yoga to one’s INTERNAL organs. From several books I have come across on the subject, different poses (asanas) are good for different organs of the body — the heart, the kidneys, the lungs, etc. It has even been shown to be good for one’s MENTAL state in terms of relieving stress and tension. But apparently, this article talks about yoga benefits beyond just stress. This research material covers the possibility that yoga could be good as a treatment for depression and anxiety.

The brain’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter is called brain gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels. Low GABA levels are associated with depression and anxiety. Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and McLean Hospital have found that practicing yoga could possibly elevate these GABA levels. The findings appear in the May 2007 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

The article, seen in, presents the research and corresponding findings:

The World Health Organization reports that mental illness makes up to fifteen percent of disease in the world. Depression and anxiety disorders both contribute to this burden and are associated with low GABA levels. Currently, these disorders have been successfully treated with pharmaceutical agents designed to increase GABA levels.

Using magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging, the researchers compared the GABA levels of eight subjects prior to and after one hour of yoga, with 11 subjects who did no yoga but instead read for one hour. The researchers found a twenty-seven percent increase in GABA levels in the yoga practitioner group after their session, but no change in the comparison subject group after their reading session. The acquisition of the GABA levels was done using a magnetic resonance spectroscopy technique developed by J. Eric Jensen, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and an associate physicist at McLean Hospital.

According to the researchers, yoga has shown promise in improving symptoms associated with depression, anxiety and epilepsy. “Our findings clearly demonstrate that in experienced yoga practitioners, brain GABA levels increase after a session of yoga,” said lead author Chris Streeter, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology at BUSM and a research associate at McLean Hospital.

“This study contributes to the understanding of how the GABA system is affected by both pharmacologic and behavioral interventions and will help to guide the development of new treatments for low GABA states,” said co-author Domenic Ciraulo, MD, professor and chairman of the department of psychiatry at BUSM.

“The development of an inexpensive, widely available intervention such as yoga that has no side effects but is effective in alleviating the symptoms of disorders associated with low GABA levels has clear public health advantage,” added senior author Perry Renshaw, MD, PhD, director of the Brain Imaging Center at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital.

Source: Boston University

If proven effective, yoga can become a form of treatment for many people who are suffering from these conditions. I have personally suffered the ill effects of stress in the past and these manifested in different forms of physical ailments.

I do not ever want to experience those again. It is just possible that when its benefits are seriously studied, yoga will prove to be helpful in many more medical conditions.

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  1. Hope it would help me to move on about things from the past, Tita Jane. I will start to attend yoga class next week.

    • Much hugs, Melai. Yeah, we can be harsh on our selves by continuing to carry our past into our present. I still do, at times, but now I have a lot of help from my yoga practice. When I wrote this post 10 years ago, I was still exploring yoga’s benefits for mental health. Fast forward to today and I am so much more certain of it because I would not have survived my challenges from a few years back if not for this practice. Start with yin yoga, Melai, then from there you have a choice to branch out and try the dynamic, sweaty styles or stay with yin. Contact me any time.

Thanks for reading! I'd love to know what you think.

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