In the last fifty years stress reduction techniques, such as meditation and yoga, have been looked at as treatments for anxiety and depression as well as for their overall health benefits. Yoga, while less researched, has become increasingly popular over the last few decades. The question that remains is can yoga help treat anxiety and depression? And what are the benefits of practicing it? As mindfulness and meditative practices have gained popularity science has also begun investigating the effects of practicing yoga as well as the rational.
Hatha yoga is the most common practice in the United States. It is made up of three main components: physical poses (asanas), breath control, and a period of meditation. The combination of breath control and physical activity is attributed as a compelling reason for the benefits of practice.
The human body reacts to stress in several ways. One of these responses is the physiological response, this includes heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. Per Harvard Medical School, practicing yoga trains the body to modulate the stress response system. This lowers heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. These benefits are correlated with lowering the risk of many cardiovascular diseases. Many professionals attribute these affects to the controlled breath practice that is a part of most yoga practices.
On a more chemical level researchers from Boston have found that practicing yoga for an hour influences the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric (GABA). People with depression and anxiety are known to have low levels of GABA in their brains. Brain scans compared participants who had practiced yoga for an hour and participants who had read a book for an hour. The yoga group showed significantly higher GABA levels following the hour-long period. However, there is a chance that GABA levels are increased by any kind of physical activity.
Research is also being done on whether yoga can be helpful for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder. The basis for this is in evidence that suggests yoga dampens maladaptive nervous system arousal. A study done on Vietnam veterans diagnosed with PTSD found that participants Clinician Administers PTSD Scale (CAPS) score had dropped from moderate to severe symptoms to mild to moderate symptoms following the study. Dr. Kriste Gore, a psychologist at Walter Reed, thinks that yoga might be less stigmatizing than traditional psychotherapy and have some similar effects.
Learn more about the benefits yoga can have on depression and other mental health issues in this article from BetterHelp.
Editor: Robyn Sutter