Utilizing Yoga to Improve Your Mood

If you suffer from depression, anxiety, or any other mood disorders, consider incorporating a few animals into your coping routine—animal poses that is. Cobra, monkey, cat, and cow are among the dozens of poses in a typical yoga practice. Although yoga advocates have long championed the physical and mental health benefits of yoga, the scientific community is slowly coming to the same conclusion.

Yoga, an ancient mind/body practice, is one of the more common forms of CAM-Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The use of CAM is on the rise; 75 percent of Americans have used some form of CAM and of these, five percent cite depression as a primary reason.

Although there are many forms of yoga, they all incorporate elements of poses, postures, relaxation, and breathing. In the United States, most people practice hatha yoga. Practitioners use yoga to address specific health problems and for general, overall wellness.

Study after study demonstrates that people experience improvements in mood and reductions in stress and depression from practicing yoga. In fact, in one study, researchers discovered participants enjoyed favorable effects after each session as well as accruing positive benefits over time. In this particular study, yoga helped people who were taking antidepressant medications, but who were not fully free from depressive symptoms. Another study found that women who practice yoga regularly recovered from stress faster than those who practiced less frequently.

Scientists don't understand all the mechanisms behind yoga's role in alleviating depression and anxiety, and many studies do not control for external factors that may influence results, such as the role of socialization. However, yoga appears to modulate the stress response and decrease physical arousal symptoms associated with stress, such as increased blood pressure and heart and respiration rate. Yoga improves circulation in the endocrine glands, enhancing the hormones involved in the physiology of depression.

People with mood disorders also have lower levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter that regulates nerves. Treatments that increase the level of GABA improve mood. In another recent study, people with mood disorders had a significant increase in GABA, along with an increase in scores on mood and anxiety scales following a 12-week yoga program.

Although yoga is not recommended for certain physical health conditions, it's generally safe, well tolerated, and has few side effects. It's also inexpensive and easy-even for beginners-making it a good option for many.


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