According to a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, yoga has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to balance mood. The study was carried out at Boston University and was both randomized and controlled, comparing yoga to walking as another form of simple exercise. When the two faced off, the yoga group showed considerably greater improvement in mood. I know, I know, most of the yogis out there are saying, “Yeah, and?”
Yoga’s beneficial effects on stress, anxiety, anger and even depression have been known for thousands of years in yoga communities. Many of the greatest thinkers of modern times – Jung, Thoreau, Aurobindo, Einstein – consider yoga a “science of the spirit.” Personal experimentation is the basis for a yogic path, and everything from postures to breathing exercises were developed by practitioners along the way. There were no scientists or medical doctors to dictate which techniques would best suit practitioners looking for healing and transformation. And yet, the yogis found them.
But this study is exciting for a few rather significant reasons:
1. Skeptics of yoga have questioned whether yoga is just one of many ‘forms of exercise’ that could be used to treat mild and sometimes severe mood disorders. We could think of hundreds of ways to simply ‘exercise’ – could it be that any form of exercise is good for mood? The answer is yes and no. On the one hand, all exercise is good for the mood in that it increases levels of serotonin and, over time, can lead to improved physical health. But what this study proves, is that yoga – specifically – is better than walking at improving mood. I guess we’ve got just 99 more studies to go before proving yoga’s complete superiority in the exercise-mood arena! ;o)
2.The study shows that practicing yoga postures particularly increases brain GABA levels. Gabagaba what now? First thing’s first, you should know that GABA is a good thing. It’s more formerly known as γ-Aminobutyric acid, the neurotransmitter that regulates excitability. It is also directly responsible for the regulation of muscle tone. Good for the psyche, good for the body, and yoga helps you make more of it? Great!
But from a healing perspective, the scope and importance of this study are tremendous. For the first time ever, we can now say with solid evidence that people who suffer from low GABA levels – people with mood and anxiety disorders – will benefit from yogic postures. Could yogic postures replace potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals? Most long-time yoga practitioners will say, “Of course.” We all know from personal experience how just a few minutes of yoga can lift you out of your emotional dumpster, so to speak. Sure, the study warrants even more research (doesn’t every study do that?) – and there will be cases where prescription drugs are the only answer we seem to have. This is the first step in providing for a population of people suffering from life-altering disorders, a safe and sustainable solution.
This is huge.
As a teacher, I think it’s absolutely vital to understand the provable science behind yogic techniques. Not only to satisfy my own curiosity about what has essentially become my life’s passion, but to open the doors to all the students out there who have grown up thinking “it’s not there if I can’t prove it.” And you’d be surprised at just how many people that is! I mean, the entire state of Missouri is known by the nickname “The Show Me State”! But seriously, it’s precisely those students out there who are evidence-driven logicians who could benefit most from the liberating horizons yoga can create. Some people just need a little scientific foundation before they’ll invest themselves in opening up.
This study states quite clearly to counselors and therapists of people suffering from mood and anxiety disorders: Yoga is a healing medicine for your patients. Utilize it!
If you’d like to check out the study in PDF format, click here.