Anxiety and Yoga

Anxiety sucks. It stinks when everyday stuff gets you so worked up and worried that you can’t sleep, can’t focus, and can’t function. It happens sometimes to most of us.

When a prevalent state of anxiety persists for at least six month, it can be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder. Life becomes fear and uncertainty. For some, living becomes unbearable.

And it’s common. Eighteen percent of the population suffers from debilitating anxiety at some point in every year.

Anxiety doesn’t always make a lot of sense. Often, people realize they are anxious way out of proportion to the situation. Intellectually knowing something isn’t a big deal just doesn’t make a difference. They can’t relax. Tension builds. They may startle easily, feel fatigued, and have headaches and tension in the muscles of the neck and shoulders. Some even tremble, twitch, sweat, throw-up, pee all the time, feel short of breath, get lightheaded or have hot flashes.

Anxiety is usually treated with drugs, ones that are pretty addictive like the class of medicines called benzodiazepines. Valium is in that category, and so is Ativan. They work by modulating the GABA system. GABA stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid, and it’s the main “downer” neurotransmitter that balances the brain’s natural “upper” neurotransmitters.

 

In August of this year, a study done at the Boston University School of Medicine showed for the first time that a behavioral intervention, Yoga, appears to increase the level of GABA in the thalamus of the brain, and the increased GABA was associated with reports of lower anxiety levels by the study participants. The Yoga sessions were 60 minutes long and were attended three times per week for 12 weeks1.

Older studies have also proven Yoga’s beneficial effects when it comes to treating anxiety2,3,4,5,6,7. One even showed that Yoga worked better than benzodiazepines (the tranquilizer drugs)2.

If you’re feeling overly anxious and worried about everything large and small, then please give Yoga a try before resorting to medicine. It’s a beautiful, natural healing method that beats drugs any day.

If you’re already on anti-anxiety medicine, then add an hour of Yoga at least three times a week. If you give it a good try and are consistent with your practice, then you’ll likely be able to taper down on the dose of drugs (in consult with your physician). You may even be able to stop them altogether – and that means stopping their side effects, both the known ones and the occult.

 

Reference:

  1. Streeter CC, Whitfield TH, Owen L, Rein T, Karri SK, Yakhkind A, Perlmutter R, Prescot A, Renshaw PF, Ciraulo DA, Jensen JE. Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study.J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Aug 19.
  2. Vahia NS et al. Psychophysiologic therapy based on concepts of Patanjali. A new approach to the treatment of neurotic and psychosomatic disorders. Am J. Psychother. 1973 Oct;27(4):557-565.
  3. Vahia NS et al. Further experience with the therapy based upon concepts of Patanjali in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Indian J Psychiatry. 1973;15:32-37.
  4. Harrigan JM. A component analysis of yoga: the effects of diaphragmatic breathing and stretching postures on anxiety, personality and somatic/behavioral complaints. Dissertation Abstracts International. 1991;42(4A):1489.
  5. Platania-Solazzo A et al. Relaxation therapy reduces anxiety in child and adolescent psychiatric patients. Acta Paedopsychiatr. 1992;55(2):115-120.
  6. Michalsen A et al. Rapid stress reduction and anxiolysis among distressed women as a consequence of a three-month intensive yoga program. Med Sci Monit. 2005 Dec; 11(12):CR555-561.
  7. Kabat-Zinn J et al. Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Am J Psychiatry. 1992;149:936-943.