In a 2007 study published by the Division of Psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine – Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: a pilot study – researchers had 8 yoga practitioners complete a 60-minute yoga session and 11 comparison subjects complete a 60-minute reading session.
The study objective was to compare changes in brain levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) – our calming neurotransmitter – in those completing the 60-minute yoga session and in those reading.
These were the results that were reported:
There was a 27% increase in GABA levels in the yoga practitioner group after the yoga session but no change in the comparison subject group after the reading session.
And here is the conclusion the authors reached:
These findings demonstrate that in experienced yoga practitioners, brain GABA levels increase after a session of yoga. This suggests that the practice of yoga should be explored as a treatment for disorders with low GABA levels such as depression and anxiety disorders. Future studies should compare yoga to other forms of exercise to help determine whether yoga or exercise alone can alter GABA levels.
In this study, GABA levels were measured with magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging (MRS/MRSI) before and after the yoga and reading sessions. If you really want to know how yoga improves your anxiety you could do the GABA section of the amino acid questionnaire and rate your before and after symptoms:
- Anxiety and feeling overwhelmed or stressed
- Feeling worried or fearful
- Panic attacks
- Unable to relax or loosen up
- Stiff or tense muscles
- Feeling stressed and burned-out
- Craving carbs, alcohol, or drugs for relaxation and calming
The above study looked at experienced yoga practitioners but there is so much research on the many benefits of yoga for everyone and for many conditions. Here is a small sampling of some other studies that include anxiety as well as depression, stress, hormonal imbalances and sleep issues:
- Improved menopausal symptoms, stress levels and depression symptoms
- Reduced anxiety in pediatric burn survivors
- Potential benefits for people who have anxiety and stutter
- Reduced back pain, depression, anxiety, fatigue and medication usage, and improved quality of life and sleep in military veterans
- Changes in neural connectivity and memory in older adults
If you’ve never done yoga or if you haven’t been doing it for a while this blog will hopefully give you the motivation to start a yoga practice or get back into it.
You may ask: how do I get started?
- Find a class at a local yoga studio or gym OR
- Buy a yoga DVD (like Yoga for Beginners or Yoga for Stress Relief and do it at home with some friends or your kids
The important thing is to find the joy in doing it so I encourage you to try different classes until you find one you love. I love Iyengar yoga but it’s not for everyone (it can be seen as too slow for some people.) Here is a yoga DVD for more advanced Iyengar yoga students: Iyengar Yoga with Gabriella.
If you already do yoga this will confirm what you already likely know. Please share what yoga you enjoy, how often you practice and how it leaves you feeling.
If you’re a health practitioner, please share if yoga is something you recommend to your clients or patients.