Studies of Yoga’s Effect on Health
A previous blog entry explored the association between yoga practice, gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA) levels, and mood and anxiety disorders. It referred to 2010 research results suggesting that practicing yoga increases the individual’s GABA levels, ultimately improving mood and significantly decreasing anxiety level. A more recent analysis conducted by researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), New York Medical College (NYMC), and the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons (CCPS) reviews evidence of positive effects that yoga may have in treating patients with stress-related psychological and/or medical conditions (i.e., depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and cardiac disease).
Effects of Stress
The investigators hypothesized that stress causes an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and an under-activity of GABA, a symptom commonly observed in those with anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, epilepsy, and chronic pain. The authors of the report reason that yoga helps to improve stress-related nervous system imbalances and aim to provide an understanding (based on neurophysiology and neuroanatomy) of how it helps patients feel better with symptom relief in many disorders. The results of one study by BUSM included in the review, for example, demonstrated that patients with chronic lower back pain who practiced yoga for 12 weeks experienced significant pain reduction along with increased GABA levels.
New Era of Studying Yoga
Because of these and other significant findings of the positive effects of yoga on various disorders and conditions, researchers have begun to test their theories of how yoga impacts the nervous system. This line of research may open a whole new chapter in the mental health and medical fields, as yoga and other mind-body therapies are integrated in clinical studies of stress-related psychological and medical conditions.
Streeter, C. C., Gerbarg, P. L., Saper, R. B., Ciraulo, D. A., & Brown, R. P. (2012). Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Medical Hypotheses, 78(5), 571-579.