Yoga helps with depression and anxiety

I know yoga helps me relax and so many others say the same. But sometimes it is nice to read objective evidence that doing a little yoga when we can really does help.

Last month, scientists published research in the journal Archives of Women’s Mental Health showing that yoga can help alleviate depression in pregnant women. And in an upcoming issue of the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews, researchers reviewed the benefits of activities that involve meditation, including tai chi and yoga. Such activities help improve the quality of life of people suffering depression, and lead to a better sleep, they found.

Scientists have also studied how yoga affects the physiology of the body. I studied physiology at university, as part of my degree in biology, and I’ve always enjoyed knowing more about how our bodies actually work.

What’s fascinating about this research is they examined how yoga can affect the physiology of our brains and nervous systems, and our moods as a result.

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The conclusions are that yoga can help make things better.

The researchers are based at the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology at the University of Gothenburg, in Sweden. And the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the University of Texas Health Science Center in the US. The study was published late last year in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, and reviewed 24 earlier studies, each of which used randomised clinical trials to best evaluate the true impact of yoga.

It is the first study to systematically review all the good quality research done so far into the effects of yoga on our moods and brains. Read the abstract – it’s serious stuff.

The main conclusions of the paper couldn’t be a better:

  1. Yoga can trigger metabolic changes in the brain (for the better!)
  2. Yoga decreases blood pressure and heart rate, and the expression of the hormone cortisol (higher rates of cortisol are linked to higher rates of stress).

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Overall, the study finds encouraging evidence that yoga can help our bodies better regulate our nervous systems and the production of certain hormones. That may in turn help decrease the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Most women in the studies did some yoga for 20 to 90 minutes a session, from anywhere between once and six times a week. So you can do a little or a lot, it’s up to you. You still get the benefits.

There is still relatively little objective research into the effects of yoga on our brains, and the scientists in this study say more needs to be done. But right now it’s all we’ve got to go on and the conclusions so far are brilliant.

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We also know that depression and anxiety are the leading cause of adult disability around the world (according to a 2013 study published in the country’s leading medical journal, The Lancet).

Other studies indicate that yoga might be as effective in the treatment of anxiety and depressive disorders as prescribed medications.

So if you are feeling stressed, get anxious, or suffer from depression, there is evidence that practicing yoga can help. It may not be a cure, or work for everyone, but even doing just a few simple yoga moves each day, or a few times a week, might just make a difference.

What’s more, it’s fun, a good excuse to briefly shut out the world, and bag a bit of you time.

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