A recent study by scientists at Boston University School of Medicine found that, “compared to walking, yoga provides a greater improvement in mood as well as a decrease in anxiety,” said Lisa Watson, in an article for FYI Living. This study used Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS) to measure brain chemistry amongst participants who were divided into two groups – those who practiced Iyengar Yoga three times per week and those who walked an hour three times per week.
Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy specifically measures the amount of naturally occurring GABA , gamma-aminobutyric acid, which is known to help regulate anxiety and helps induce a state of relaxation and calm according to an article in Insight Health. GABA levels are found to be markedly decreased in depressed people and the Boston University School of Medicine study focused on measuring the GABA levels before, during and after the assigned exercise for participants.
The findings in this small study landed on the side of yoga. They found that, “subjects practicing yoga reported greater mood improvement than those walking, and their GABA levels matched those improvements,” said Watson. “By looking at actual changes in the brain, scientists are identifying new approaches to treating depression and anxiety.”
Depression is a sneaky epidemic amongst world populations that tends to affect people seasonally in the winter months although it’s prevalent throughout the world, no matter the season. It affects approximately 121 million people worldwide and an alarming 80% of those that struggle with depression also suffer from anxiety, according to Life Force Yoga – Yoga for Depression.
Yogis, throughout the centuries, have touted a regular yoga practice as the means for creating positive changes in mood and behavior and while it’s not the only thing that happens in a yoga class nor is Iyengar the only style of yoga that may help with depression, these findings are exciting. Yoga may not be the singular answer to treating depression, however, it’s now been scientifically proven that yoga does make a difference and studies like these give health care workers new tools to aid in the treatment of depression and anxiety.
(written by Sonya Klepper, originally published on YogaBasics)