Of all the health news and health breakthroughs and alternative trends over the past 20 years, one of the firmest links has been this: yoga relieves stress. Even people who don’t like to do it wind up enjoying it and reaping its relaxing benefits. A brand new study takes it one step further: yoga could actively protect you from conditions caused by stress.
Researchers from three U.S. medical schools collectively assessed the evidence that yoga could treat people with stress-related medical conditions. These include depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and cardiac disease. Their theory could lead to specific mind-body practices for the prevention and treatment of these conditions in conjunction with standard treatments.
Yoga is based in the ancient natural system of medicine known as Ayurveda. As most of us know now, there is a wide range of yoga styles, but the original point of yoga was to bring deep relaxation and meditation to the body. Its series of stretches are meant at once to be a source of exercise and spirituality.
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Yoga’s connection to stress relief is long acknowledged. Here, the idea is that stress causes an imbalance in the “autonomic nervous system” and under-activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA). So let’s break down that mouthful into bite-sized chunks. Low GABA activity occurs in anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, epilepsy, and chronic pain. That is the key here. So, according to the study, the theory could explain why certain stimulation decreases seizure frequency and the symptoms of depression.
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Western and Eastern medicine complement one another. Yoga is known to improve stress-related nervous system imbalances. Now we might know exactly why that is so. Based deep in neurophysiology — your brain — we can understand how yoga helps patients feel better by relieving symptoms in many common disorders.
One earlier study compared a walking group and a yoga group over a 12-week period. It found no increase in GABA levels in the walking group, whereas the yoga group showed increased GABA levels and less anxiety. In another study, patients with chronic low back pain responded to a yoga intervention with increased GABA levels and significant reduction in pain, compared to a group receiving standard care alone.
Underpinning all this is the notion that yoga affects the nervous system. It provides much hope that mind-body therapies such as yoga could prevent a wide range of stress-related medical and psychological conditions.