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Yoga Enhances Mood

Updated on March 10, 2013

Yoga is a holistic practice that unions the mind and body. Started 5000 year ago in India, it is now popular in the West and often used as a tool for promoting mental and physical well-being. It consists a series of poses and stretches with focus on the breathing. Sometimes meditation is incorporated into the practice.

And many people do find that they feel better a set of yoga session. Is there any scientific basis for this? Does yoga poses and stretches really enhances mood?

Now there have been studies that conclude that yes indeed yoga does improve mood.

Boston University School of Medicine study compared two healthy subject groups. One group with 15 subjects did walking exercise. Another group with 19 subjects did yoga. They each did an one hour session three times a week for 12 weeks. Using mood and anxiety scales, magnetic resonance spectroscopy scans, and measure of GABA levels, the conclusion was that the yoga group had better mood and decrease anxiety in comparison to the walking control group.

From study abstract it said ...

"The 12-week yoga intervention was associated with greater improvements in mood and anxiety than a metabolically matched walking exercise. This is the first study to demonstrate that increased thalamic GABA levels are associated with improved mood and decreased anxiety."

Yoga Increase GABA levels

Also the yoga group had a greater rise in their GABA levels.

GABA is gamma-Aminobutyric acid which is a chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Think of it as the brain's calming agent. It regulates brain cell activities by inhibiting certain neuronal firings. So GABA is supposed to increase relaxation and decrease anxiety.

GABA levels are known to be low in depressed patients.

This study showed that regular yoga poses and stretches can increase an individual's GABA levels. It is true that GABA can be found in supplement stores, but it is questionable as to how effective oral GABA supplements are since GABA has difficulties passing through the blood-brain barrier. Now we see that yoga is a natural alternative way to boost GABA levels.

More About the Study

Boston University Today did an interview with researcher Chris Streeter to find out what type of yoga was used in the study.

Streeter said that Iyengar yoga was choosen because it had well defined poses that was not rigorous. Streeter also mentioned that yoga should not be used as a replacement for traditional anxiety or depression treatment. Instead it should be used in addition to regular treatment.

That is not to say that yoga is better than walking, or that there is no benefit to walking. Walking has it own benefits in it own rights -- such as cardiovascular improvements and brain health improvements.

Yoga Helps with Depression

Paper from the University of California at Santa Cruz cites that ...

"Regular yoga practice improves functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system that activates the relaxation response."

The key word here is "regular" yoga practice. You can't just do it "once in a while" and expect the same benefits.

The paper reports of other study that have shown that consistent practitioners of participants yoga for 10 months were less anxious and depressed. Again, the key word here is consistent.

Scandinavian researchers found that alpha waves and theta waves were increased after a two-hour yoga class. Alpha wave increases are indicative of increased relaxation. Theta wave increases are indicative of enhanced awareness of emotions and subconscious.

Article in Frontiers of Psychiatry (Jan 25, 2013) titled "Yoga on our minds: a systematic review of yoga for neuropsychiatric disorders" says that yoga helps with depression and makes the conclusion:

"There is emerging evidence from randomized trials to support popular beliefs about yoga for depression, sleep disorders, and as an augmentation therapy."


Yoga and Mindfulness

You have to focus and monitor your body and movements in order to perform yoga poses. Hence yoga has some elements similar to mindfulness practice. Since mindfulness practice can cultivate a sense of well-being and reduce anxiety, it is not surprising that yoga enhances mood.

According to the book, The Cortisol Connection, some psychologists has shown that ...

"ten sessions of yoga over four weeks results in significant benefits in psychology and physiology in both men and women. Participants in the yoga sessions had improvements in cortisol, stress, anger, exhaustion, and blood pressure levels." [page 140]

Learn Yoga

If you are interested in learning yoga, below are some products that can introduce you to this great form of exercise that appears to enhance the mind-body connection and improve mood.

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