Yoga Benefits the Brain; Helps Manage Mood and Anxiety

Submitted by Michael Olander, President and CEO of O2 Fitness

It’s obvious that yoga is not just good for the body-it benefits mental and emotional health as well. But what exactly does all that stretching and posing do to the body? Researchers (and part-time yoga instructors) at Wellesley College recently discovered that the practice of yoga increases gamma-amino butruic acid (GABA) levels, a chemical in the brain that influences mood and anxiety. Low levels of GABA indicate depression. If the depression is treated, GABA levels increase.

The study, as published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine and supported by the National Institutes of Health, demonstrates that GABA levels increase immediately after completing yoga exercises. In the study, participants either practiced yoga or did a metabolically equivalent amount of walking over a 12-week period. At the end, their GABA levels were measured with MRIs. Researchers found that participants had an increase in GABA levels immediately following yoga exercise, though results did not reflect an overall increase.

Streeter, C., Owen, L., et al. (2010). Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16 (11), p. 1145-1152.

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