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Dr. Helen

Yoga as a cure for anxiety?

October 28th, 2013 - 5:15 am

There is an interesting article at Psychology Today on yoga stating :”Evidence that yoga can enhance anxiety-killing neurotransmitters in the brain” (via Amy Alkon):

Why does yoga help and a flood of alcohol hurt? Well, the money is on GABA. Gamma-aminobutryic acid is a neurotransmitter I’ve made brief mention of before. GABA is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the mammalian nervous system. It cools things off and chills things out. People with depression and anxiety have been shown to have low amounts of GABA in their cerebrospinal fluid. MRI spectroscopy has been used to estimate the amount of GABA in people who are depressed, and the levels are low compared to controls (4). …

In 2010 the same group at BU did a second, somewhat larger study (5) comparing walkers and yoga practitioners. Again, healthy people were studied, not anyone with psychiatric illness. This time, 19 yoga practitioners and 15 walkers did yoga or walked for an hour three times a week for twelve weeks. The yoga practitioners reported improved mood and anxiety compared to the walking controls, and MRIs showed increased GABA in the thalamus (a part of the brain) of the yoga practitioners compared to the walkers. The increase in GABA correlated with the decrease in anxiety scores, which makes sense. Since there is a body of evidence that exercise is helpful in depression and anxiety (6), it is interesting to see that yoga could be even more helpful than regular exercise.

I have started doing yoga and Pilates recently on a regular basis and I have to say that the yoga is much more calming and feels less stressful than either Pilates or weight training. When I was younger, I hated yoga as it seemed too calm and almost inactive and frankly, frustrating to me but recently, I have been getting more out of yoga. I don’t know if my mind has calmed down as I have gotten older or if I don’t have the stamina I once did, but yoga is definitely relaxing and seems to be great for those of us who spend the day on the computer.

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All Comments   (4)
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My office building hosted a visiting yoga instructor twice a week. I loved that hour, and I always returned to work in a vastly improved state of mind and body. Unfortunately none of my male colleagues would participate.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Actually, if you'll read above more closely, *I* -- Amy Alkon -- linked to the piece on Twitter.

And it's from a Psychology Today blog item by the excellent Emily Deans, a psychiatrist I respect (and have quoted in my science-based love advice column) for her evidence-based approach to both diet and psychological issues.

In fact, Emily Deans and I were corresponding this weekend about the absolute crap data on "mindfulness" meditation. Much of the data is utter crap. But not all of it, and there is evidence that this works to alleviate anxiety. Researcher Sian Beilock has a post on this at Psych Today in respect to avoiding performance-based choking through "mindfulness" meditation. (Yoga is part of that program.)

Here's the program and some of the research links. Kabat-Zinn is the guy who's done some of this work, and Davidson and he have done some papers together on this. (Can't remember Davidson's first name, and I'm on deadline, must get back to work.)

Also Google "Mindfulness-Based Therapies For Substance Use Disorders"
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
You have done yoga and it reduces your stress levels and you actually feel it? your friend Amy is going to put you on the list of people who she thinks are dopey and fall for unscientific stuff. Watch out Helen :-)
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
See my reply above. Best to not knock Dr. Helen based on your assumptions alone. There's solid science behind this (though many of the studies are utter crap in terms of their methodology. Almost as bad as studies on diet/nutrition).
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
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