At the end of my previous yoga blog post, I wrote about the connection between yoga and depression/anxiety and was left wondering whether or not India (the country that yoga originates from) had fewer depression and anxiety cases than Western countries due to yoga practice.
As a whole, the claim that yoga can act as an alternative medicine with regards to mental illness is largely inconclusive as there hasn’t been a sufficient amount of research done to confirm this, however there are a few studies that suggest this, which I will get to in a moment.
With regards to depression in India, it turns out that India has the highest amount of reported cases of depression in the world, according to a 2012 medical review.
I found this statistic to be interesting as in India, yoga has a history of therapeutic benefits, which have been documented and edited by Sri Kuvalayananda in the first journal dedicated to yoga research, Yoga Mimasa, which was launched in 1924.
As we know, yoga originated in India thousands of years ago as a philosophical or spiritual discipline to deliver practitioners from suffering, or disease. The practice of yoga unifies the mind and body through coordinated breathing, movement and meditation, which has been known to promote wellbeing and reduce stress (Jeter Et al, 2015).
There have been numerous yoga studies undertaken that demonstrate the positive effects that the practice of yoga has on psychological wellbeing. Which has led to the rise of yoga studios in the West, popularizing yoga with a holistic wellness approach.
In 2009, Harvard Medical School released an article collating research that had been done on yoga in relation to anxiety and depression from 2004 onwards. While they state that they found that a lot of the studies had been poorly designed, they did find that there had been a rise in recent studies utilizing randomized controlled trials – the most accurate standard for proving efficacy.
A 2005 German study saw 24 women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed” attend two 90 minute yoga classes per week over a three month period. Another group of women in a control group were asked to maintain their normal activities and withhold from beginning an exercise or stress relief program during the study period.
While the women in this study had not been formally diagnosed with depression, they had all experienced emotional distress for some time prior to the three-month study period. They were also one standard deviation above the population in scores for perceived stress, anxiety and depression.
At the end of the three-month trial period, the women that were in the yoga group reported greater improvements in stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue and wellbeing than those in the other group.
There have been several other studies undertaken that have all shown similar outcomes. Another example of this is the Boston University Medical Centre Study that I touched on in my pervious blog post. This particular study saw researchers set out to contrast the GABA levels (Low GABA levels are associated with depression and anxiety disorders) of yoga subjects with those of participants who spent time working over a twelve week period.
One group practiced yoga three times a week for an hour, while the other group walked for the same amount of time. MRS imaging was used to scan participant’s brains before the study began. At the end of the twelve-week period, the researchers compared the GABA levels of participant’s in both groups.
In addition to MRS imaging, each subject was asked to assess his/her psychological state at different points throughout the study. Those that practiced yoga reported a more significant decrease in anxiety and greater improvements in mood than those in the walking group. The positive changes in this report were reflected in climbing GABA levels.
While there haven’t been any studies done that prove and explain the relationship between practicing yoga and improvement in mental health, the studies that have been done all positively warrant further studies and suggest that practicing yoga could be considered as a potential therapy for certain mental disorders.
Boston University Medical Center. “New study finds new connection between yoga and mood.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 August 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100819112124.htm>
Harvard Mental Health Letter, Harvard Medical School, 2009, Yoga for Anxiety and Depression, Harvard Health Publications, viewed 23rd September, < http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression>
Jeter Pamela E., Slutsky Jeremiah, Singh Nilkamal, and Khalsa Sat Bir S, 2015, ‘Yoga as a Therapeutic Intervention’, The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, Volume 00, Number 0, PP. 1-7, viewed 23rd September, < http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/acm.2015.0057>