Scientists at the New York Medical Center, the University of California, and the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons found that yoga could be a beneficial, low-risk, low-cost treatment for:

  • anxiety
  • PTSD
  • hypertension
  • depression
  • stress-related medical illnesses
  • substance abuse
  • rehabilitation of criminal offenders
  • enhanced well-being
  • increased attention and mental focus
  • better tolerance for stress

In a study at the University Duisburg-Esse, 24 women who described themselves as emotionally distressed participated in two 90-minute yoga classes per week for three months. At the end of the three months, the women reported vast improvements in their emotional well-being. Depression scores improved by 50 percent, anxiety scores by 30 percent, and overall well-being scores by 65 percent. Initial complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality were also resolved much more often in the yoga group than in the control group.

Another study published in 2005 examined the effects of a single yoga class for inpatients at a New Hampshire psychiatric hospital. The 113 participants included patients with bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia. After the class, participants reported a significant decrease in average levels of:

1. stress
2. anxiety
3. depression
4. anger
5. hostility
6. fatigue

Yoga also has been found to increase heart rate variability, lower blood pressure, and ease respiration, an indicator of the body's ability to respond to stress more effectively.

In 2008, researchers at the University of Utah presented preliminary results from a study of participants' responses to pain. They note that people who have a poorly regulated response to stress are also more sensitive to pain. Their subjects were 12 experienced yoga practitioners, 14 people with fibromyalgia, and 16 healthy volunteers. When the three groups were subjected to more or less painful thumbnail pressure, the participants with fibromyalgia perceived pain at lower pressure levels compared with the other subjects. Functional MRIs showed they also had the greatest activity in areas of the brain associated with the pain response. In contrast, the yoga practitioners had the highest pain tolerance and lowest pain-related brain activity during the MRI. The study underscores the value of techniques such as yoga.

Yoga classes can vary from gentle and accommodating to strenuous and challenging. Hatha yoga, the most common type of yoga practiced in the United States, combines three elements: physical poses, called asanas, controlled breathing practiced in conjunction with asanas, and a short period of deep relaxation or meditation. A Hatha yoga class is a good place to learn basic poses, relaxation techniques, and become comfortable with the practice for beginners.

Yoga Increases Your Levels of GABA

Yoga has been shown to boost your levels of the neurotransmitter GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA has been shown to help relieve stress and anxiety, and GABA receptors in your brain are the target of many antidepressants.

In a small study of healthy people with no psychiatric problems, led by a psychiatry professor at the University of California, yoga produced greater improvements in mood than walking, suggesting its therapeutic effect is not just from physical activity. The study involved 19 people who practiced Iyengar yoga, a type of Hatha yoga, and 15 people who walked at an average pace for one hour, three times a week, for 12 weeks. The people who practiced yoga reported greater improvements in mood and greater decreases in anxiety than the walking group. GABA levels increased in the participants of the yoga group, but not in the walking group. Although the study only involved people without psychiatric problems, it shows that yoga postures may be helpful in treating people who have depression or anxiety due to low GABA levels.

Now you know how gentle yoga can boost your mood, and the science behind yoga for depression. Start today to experience the many benefits of yoga, and achieve the happier, healthier life you deserve.

Author's Bio: 

Michael Locklear is a researcher and consultant with 30 years experience, studying health, nutrition, and human behavior. He has been president of the Global Peace Project since 1986, and he administrates the website as part of the Global Peace Project Educational Outreach Program. You can also find him on The Total Health Blog.