The findings, which appeared on-line at the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, are the first to demonstrate an association between yoga postures and increased brain gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels and decreased anxiety.
Low GABA levels are associated with depression and other widespread anxiety disorders and the researchers from Boston University School of Medicine set out to contrast the levels of yoga subjects with those of participants who spent time walking.
The researchers followed two randomized groups of healthy individuals over a 12-week long period. One group practiced yoga three times a week for one hour, while the remaining subjects walked for the same period of time.
Using magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging, the participants’ brains were scanned before the study began. At week 12, the researchers compared the GABA levels of both groups before and after their final 60-minute session.
Each subject was also asked to assess his or her psychological state at several points throughout the study and those who practiced yoga reported a more significant decrease in anxiety and greater improvements in mood than those who walked.
“Over time, positive changes in these reports were associated with climbing GABA levels,” said lead author Chris Streeter, MD.
According to Streeter, this promising research warrants further study of the relationship between yoga and mood and suggests that the practice of yoga could be considered as a potential therapy for certain mental disorders.