YOGA AND YOUR MOOD
Yoga has been shown to increase the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a chemical in the brain that helps to regulate nerve activity. GABA activity is reduced in people with mood and anxiety disorders, and drugs that increase GABA activity are commonly prescribed to improve mood and decrease anxiety.
Tying all of these observations together, the study by Chris Streeter, MD, from Boston University School of Medicine (Massachusetts) and colleagues demonstrates that increased GABA levels measured after a session of yoga postures are associated with improved mood and decreased anxiety. Their findings establish a new link between yoga, higher levels of GABA in the thalamus, and improvements in mood and anxiety based on psychological assessments. The authors suggest that the practice of yoga stimulates specific brain areas, thereby giving rise to changes in endogenous antidepressant neurotransmitters such as GABA.
“This is important work that establishes some objective bases for the effects that highly trained practitioners of yoga therapy throughout the world see on a daily basis. What is important now is that these findings are further investigated in long-term studies to establish just how sustainable such changes can be in the search for safe non-drug treatments for depression,” says Kim A. Jobst, MA, DM, MRCP, MFHom, DipAc, Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
ScienceDaily (Apr. 4, 2012) — Yoga classes have positive psychological effects for high-school students, according to a pilot study in the April Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, the official journal of the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. The researchers set out to contrast the brain gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels of yoga subjects with those of participants who spent time walking. Low GABA levels are associated with depression and other widespread anxiety disorders.
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 (MRS) 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, an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at BUSM.
According to Streeter, this promising research warrants further study of the relationship between yoga and mood, and suggests that the practice of yoga be considered as a potential therapy for certain mental disorders.
Funding for this study was provided by the National Institutes of Health.
YOGA FOR TEENS
Since mental health disorders commonly develop in the teenage years, “Yoga may serve a preventive role in adolescent mental health,” according to the new study, led by Jessica Noggle, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston.
Pilot Study Shows Improvements in Some Psychosocial Outcomes Fifty-one 11th- and 12th-grade students registered for physical education (PE) at a Massachusetts high school were randomly assigned to yoga or regular PE classes. (Two-thirds were assigned to yoga.) Based on Kripalu yoga, the classes consisted of physical yoga postures together with breathing exercises, relaxation, and meditation. Students in the comparison group received regular PE classes.
Students completed a battery of psychosocial tests before and after the ten-week yoga program. In addition to tests of mood and tension/anxiety, both groups completed tests assessing the development of self-regulatory skills — such as resilience, control of anger expression, and mindfulness — thought to protect against the development of mental health problems.
Teens taking yoga classes had better scores on several of the psychological tests. Specifically, while students in regular PE classes tended to have increased scores for mood problems and anxiety, those taking yoga classes stayed the same or showed improvement. Negative emotions also worsened in students taking regular PE, while improving in those taking yoga. (There was no difference in a test of positive emotions.)
However, the tests of self-regulatory skills were not significantly different between groups. Although attendance was only moderate, the students rated yoga fairly high — nearly three-fourths said they would like to continue taking yoga classes.
Could Yoga for Teens Help Prevent Mental Health Problems? Adolescence is an important time for the development of mental health, including healthy coping responses to stress. Several types of school-based stress management and wellness programs have been developed with the goal of encouraging healthy coping strategies and resilience among teens.
One promising approach is yoga, which combines strength and flexibility exercise with relaxation and meditation/mindfulness techniques. Studies have shown benefits of yoga in a wide range of mental and physical health problems, including a growing body of evidence showing positive effects in children and teens.
Although limited by its small size, the study suggests some positive psychological effects of Kripalu yoga for high school students. The results are “generally consistent” with the few previous studies of yoga in school settings. Dr Noggle and coauthors call for larger studies including multiple schools and tracking teens for several years into adulthood. These larger studies will be needed to clarify the psychological and other health benefits of yoga for adolescents — including the possible preventive benefit on development of mental health problems.
ScienceDaily (Nov. 12, 2010) — Yoga has a greater positive effect on a person’s mood and anxiety level than walking and other forms of exercise, which may be due to higher levels of the brain chemical GABA according to an article in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. The article is available free online.
YOGA AND ARTHRITIS
ScienceDaily (May 28, 2011) — Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis who practice yoga showed statistically significant improvements in disease activity, according to a small study presented at the EULAR 2011 Annual Congress. The results of the study conducted in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) among 47 patients (26 yoga patients and 21 controls) demonstrate that patients who completed 12 sessions of Raj yoga which is one of the gentler styles of yoga, combining exercise and breathing techniques showed significant improvements in disease activity scores (DAS28) of p=0.021 and health assessment questionnaire’s (HAQ†) of p=0.0015. However there was no statistically significant improvement on the quality of life scale (QoL).
“Most patients with RA do not exercise regularly despite the fact that those who do report less pain and are therefore more physically active,” said Dr Humeira Badsha MD Rheumatologist and founder of the Emirates Arthritis Foundation, Dubai, UAE. “While our study has been conducted in a small group of patients the results show clear benefits for patients who regularly practice Raj yoga. We believe that practicing yoga longer term could in fact result in further significant improvements and hope our study drives further research into the benefits of yoga in RA.”
Patients were recruited by email through the Emirates Arthritis Foundation RA database (mean age of yoga group 44 years, mean age of control group 46.2 years, 80% female). Demographic data, disease activity indices, health assessment questionnaire (HAQ) and SF-36 (a standard patient survey commonly used to calculate patient quality of life) were documented at enrolment and after completion of 12 sessions of yoga.
Results of a separate study show the positive effects of yoga on the quality of life in patients with Fibromyalgia, a long-term condition which causes extreme pain all over the body.
Results of one further study investigating the effects of yoga on the QoL of patients with fibromyalgia, demonstrated that QoL scores, after an eight session classical yoga program which combines gentle yoga postures, breathing techniques and meditation, were better than scores obtained before the program (p<0.05) along with a significant decrease in the anxiety levels of patients (p<0.05). As anxiety is often a key symptom in patients with this condition, this study represents a positive step in improving the lives of people suffering from fibrolmyalgia.
YOGA AND DEMENTIA
Although yoga and meditation have been used for stress reduction with reported improvement in inflammation, little is known about the biological mechanisms mediating such effects. The present study examined if a yogic meditation might alter the activity of inflammatory and antiviral transcription control pathways that shape immune cell gene expression.
Forty-five family dementia caregivers were randomized to either Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KKM) or Relaxing Music (RM) listening for 12 min daily for 8 weeks and 39 caregivers completed the study. Genome-wide transcriptional profiles were collected from peripheral blood leukocytes sampled at baseline and 8-week follow-up. Promoter-based bioinformatics analyses tested the hypothesis that observed transcriptional alterations were structured by reduced activity of the pro-inflammatory nuclear factor (NF)-κB family of transcription factors and increased activity of Interferon Response Factors (IRFs; i.e., reversal of patterns previously linked to stress).
In response to KKM treatment, 68 genes were found to be differentially expressed (19 up-regulated, 49 down-regulated) after adjusting for potentially confounded differences in sex, illness burden, and BMI. Up-regulated genes included immunoglobulin-related transcripts. Down-regulated transcripts included pro-inflammatory cytokines and activation-related immediate-early genes. Transcript origin analyses identified plasmacytoid dendritic cells and B lymphocytes as the primary cellular context of these transcriptional alterations (both p < .001). Promoter-based bioinformatic analysis implicated reduced NF-κB signaling and increased activity of IRF1 in structuring those effects (both p < .05).
A brief daily yogic meditation intervention may reverse the pattern of increased NF-κB-related transcription of pro-inflammatory cytokines and decreased IRF1-related transcription of innate antiviral response genes previously observed in healthy individuals confronting a significant life stressor.
YOGA AND STROKE
Yoga is an effective therapy method for stroke victims hoping to regain balance, a new study from researchers at Roudebush Veterans Administration-Medical Center in Indianapolis shows.
The research team surveyed 47 male stroke victims with a maximum age in the 90s. The pool was split into three groups – one practicing group yoga twice a week, another practicing group yoga twice a week plus a relaxation practice and one receiving standard medical treatment.
After eight weeks, the two yoga groups reported having greater balance and flexibility as well as less fear of falling, greater independence and better overall quality of life.
Lead researcher Dr. Arlene Schmid said she wasn’t surprised by the results because “because [yoga] is complex and includes the mind and the body, and helps to coordinate movements and breathing.”
“Many of the [participants] stated they wished they had done this type of intervention while in the hospital or just earlier in their life. They were able to use the breathing and meditation to help decrease stress,” she added.
The data appears in the current edition of the American Heart Associations journal Stroke.