Want to enhance your mood, lead a better quality of life and relieve any stress or anxiety? It’s patently clear that the best method may just be yoga.
Boston researchers have found that yoga may be superior to other forms of exercise in its positive effect on mood and anxiety. The findings, online at the “Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine,” are the first to show a link between yoga postures, increased “GABA” levels and decreased anxiety.
GABA is short for “gamma-aminobutyric acid,” found in the brain. It is a very important neurotransmitter (and actually an amino acid) that helps induce relaxation and sleep. In the brain, it balances overexcitement with calm. GABA is involved in many functions, including motor control and vision. The body’s anxiety levels are also regulated by GABA. In fact, there are drugs used to treat epilepsy that work by increasing the level of GABA in the brain.
In the new study, researchers set out to contrast GABA levels of yoga subjects with those of participants who spent time walking. Thus, yoga versus general exercise. They went in knowing that low GABA levels are associated with depression and other widespread anxiety disorders.
The researchers followed two randomized groups of healthy individuals over a 12-week period. One group practiced yoga three times a week for one hour, while the others walked for the same period of time. Using magnetic resonance spectroscopic (MRS) imaging, the participants’ brains were scanned before the study began. At week 12, the researchers compared the GABA levels of both groups before and after their final hour-long session.
Each subject was also asked to assess his or her psychological state at several points throughout the study. Researchers found that those who practiced yoga reported a more significant decrease in anxiety and greater improvements in mood than those who walked. The positive changes correlated with GABA levels that were rising.
This is a promising study, and it illustrates the need for more studies on the relationship between yoga and mood. Yoga might even be considered a potential therapy for certain mental disorders.
If sleep problems and/or anxiety are plaguing your life, yoga is well worth the attempt. It could very well work subliminally, inside your brain, chemically reducing anxiety and improving your life.