Is Yoga Better at Reducing Anxiety?

by:  Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times

Yoga has many proven health benefits, but does it stand up to other forms of exercise? Researchers pitted it against a walking routine and found that those who practiced yoga showed greater improvements in mood and anxiety.

Researchers randomly assigned 19 people to an Iyengar yoga program and 15 to a metabolically matched regular walking regimen.

Both groups took part in the programs for an hour three times a week for 12 weeks. Study participants were tested several times to measure mood and anxiety. They were also given magnetic resonance spectroscopy scans to measure levels of the brain chemical gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that quiets brain activity, reducing anxiety and producing a state of calm. The scans were done at the beginning and end of the study and immediately following a yoga or walking session.

Those in the yoga group saw better changes in mood and less anxiety than those in the walking group. The yoga group also saw increases in GABA levels linked with improvements in mood.

This study was published recently in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

Cardio/Weight Training vs. Yoga

By Deborah Caruana RN, RYT, CPT, MES, Yoga Lifestyle Coach

After 10 yrs of no yoga I started to practice again. Deciding yoga was the missing ingredient to the hard-core cardio and weight training I was into. Unfortunately 10yrs of workouts had tightened up my muscles and joints and all of the yoga poses that came so easily 10 yrs ago now seemed out of reach. Determined to get back to where I was, though nagged by the thought you get stiff and then you get old’, I persisted.

Were the work outs the culprit in losing flexibility? I was not willing to admit that it was because I had aged that I had lost flexibility! Or was it the fact that I didnt stretch enough, after workouts? Who has the time to stretch?! I was a busy trainer running all over town taking care of clients. Cardio, weight training, stretching it all took too much time! As I incorporated more yoga and less workout, I enjoyed it so much I enrolled in a 200hr yoga certification to compliment the fitness I was teaching.

It took 3 full yrs of all yoga and no working out, but I finally won back that beautiful natural flexibility! Did I want to go back to working out?

Not in the least, all that flexibility felt too good. Plus, no more aches and pains from knotted, sore and aching muscles while pushing myself with workouts.

Was it worth the 3 yr investment? Well first of all my body looked and felt better. In yoga because you are constantly holding your own body weight in an endless array of movements from handstands, to shoulder stands, to one legged balances with twists and plank variations, my body remained very strong, sculpted and supple. I also learned to breath properly, stand quietly surrendering deeper into poses, practicing awareness of how each body part was aligned and activated. From a thoughtful intention and dynamic heart felt center I learned to ground myself by pressing into the earth which freed me to expand energy outward and upward to lengthen so as to create and feel the lines of energy while moving.  Now, gracefully from one pose to the next.  I discovered a form of moving meditation in union of body, mind and breath which is the definition of yoga.

I slimmed down, not from dieting or effort but rather, having a sense of fulfillment. I was not as ravenously hungry as when I was exercising.  Food simply, though I still enjoyed it, was fuel to feed my somewhat thankfully diminished hunger. It was no longer as tantalizing and appealing perhaps because I was calmer, and felt more at peace. I made healthier choices too, desiring foods and living situations that were colorful and simple. Yoga gave me the gift of self acceptance and self compassion, life’s ups and downs became easier and less jarring. I stopped feeling like I had to be better, do more, get leaner and I relaxed into my own skin.

When I finished my full 500hr certification. Teaching became a wonderful outlet for me, a different form of meditation to calm and sooth.

Do I still have other forms of exercise? Sure! I love walking, for long distances too. Cycling also feels wonderful. Sometimes I have to run and I can, gracefully.   Gardening, landscaping our place in the country, chopping wood, weeding, helping my husband build beautiful rock walls, dancing, but the yoga is a part of my life that I practice everyday on and off the mat.

Deborah Caruana RN, RYT, CPT, MES



Deborah is currently a guest teacher at Smart Workout.