“Yoga has become increasingly popular in the West, and many new yoga practitioners cite stress-reduction and other mental health concerns as their primary reason for practicing,” said Lindsey Hopkins, Ph.D. from San Francisco Veteran Affairs Medical Center in a news release on eurekalert.com. “But the empirical research on yoga lags behind its popularity as a first-line approach to mental health.”
With depression now being the leading cause of disability in the world, affecting over 16 million Americans annually, treatments other than therapy and medication are becoming increasingly popular. A recent study from the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) found that yoga can increase levels of the neurotransmitter, Gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), which can decrease symptoms of depression.
Chris Streeter, associate professor of psychiatry at BUSM and corresponding author, commented in a news release on eurekalert.com “Think of it this way, we give medications in different doses in order to enact their effects on the body to varying degrees. Here, we explored the same concept, but used yoga. We call that a dosing study. Past yoga and depression studies have not really delved deeply into this.”
“A unique strength of this study is that pairing the yoga intervention with brain imaging provides important neurobiological insight as to the ‘how’ yoga may help to alleviate depression and anxiety,” continued Streeter.
“In this study, we found that an important neurochemical, GABA, which is related to mood, anxiety and sleep, is significantly increased in association with a yoga intervention,” said collaborator and co-author Marisa Silveri.
Thirty clinically depressed patients were divided into two groups: high-dose group and low-dose group. MRI scans and the completion of a clinical depression scale were used to monitor symptoms of depression. The high-dose group (HDG) participated in three yoga sessions a week, while the low-dose group (LDG) did only two.
After three months, MRI scans and depressive symptoms were compared to the results prior to the study. It was found that both groups improved through an increase in GABA, however, this increase was not noticeable eight days after the last yoga session.
“The study suggests that the associated increase in GABA levels after a yoga session are ‘time-limited’ similar to that of pharmacologic treatments, such that completing one session of yoga per week may maintain elevated levels of GABA,” said Chris Streeter.
Since 10-30 per cent of patients do not benefit much (due to individual differences) from antidepressants, yoga is definitely worth a shot.
Yoga has also been found to lower perceived stress, decrease levels of anxiety, prevent heart disease, and may be as effective as physical therapy for lower back pain. It can also help with body image, mindfulness, and fitness, and has become an important part of treating eating-disorders.
With so many benefits, yoga is definitely something you should incorporate into your life. Since it has a low-risk of injury, you can get started simply by following an online tutorial. While there are several different types of yoga, the most common is hatha, a combination of breathing and poses.
“Providing evidence-based data is helpful in getting more individuals to try yoga as a strategy for improving their health and well-being. These data are crucial for accompanying investigations of underlying neurobiology that will help elucidate ‘how’ yoga works,” said Silveri.