Sunday, October 11, 2009
Yoga: Proven Benefits for Anxiety, Depression & Adrenal Dysregulation
If you practiced yoga daily, you wouldn’t need us doctors at the Gottfried Center to help you feel optimized. Yoga will change your life, for the good, but only if you commit deeply. You cannot proceed casually and expect transformation. Part of my job is to provide evidence to you – evidence that, in this case, yoga heals and transforms. What follows is the science supporting yoga for anxiety, depression and adrenal dysregulation, conditions that affect 100% of you. Please also keep in mind the wise words of BKS Iyengar:
“Words fail to convey the total value of yoga. It has to be experienced.”
Anxiety. There is 100% incidence of anxiety in our culture. There is a broad spectrum here from a little worry to the more debilitating problems such as obsessive thinking, insomnia, migraines, panic attacks, shortness of breath and palpitations. Excessive worry blocks healing. Simple tools such as deeper, belly breathing can help. Specifically, deep, slow breathing activates the Parasympathetic nervous system and releases the body’s own valium – GABA. Generally, we know that yoga increases our GABA levels. Other scientific evidence? Two studies show that yoga is as or more effective than tranquilizers such as Xanax or Ativan. In Germany, a group of 24 women with anxiety were randomized to two 90-minute yoga classes per week for 3 months or a waitlist. Significant reductions in both anxiety symptoms and salivary cortisol levels were found in the yoga group. Also interesting was that the women who reported headaches or back pain noted marked relief from pain.
Depression. Don’t co-opt the message from your conventional doctor that the answer to your sluggish mood and lack of joy can be found in a pill. Here’s the science: (1) A randomized trial from UCLA of 28 women with mild depression were treated with yoga twice/week compared to a control group placed on a waitlist. The yoga group had significant improvements in mood and anxiety, after only 2.5 weeks in class. (2) Another study of 80 people found that yoga for 3 to 6 months was as effective as a older treatment for depression – a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA), imiprimaine. Both yoga and the TCA raised serotonin and resolved symptoms, and while yoga took a little longer to have a significant effect, the effect lasted longer when patients stopped the therapies. Another randomized trial of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction showed it cut the recurrence rate for depression in half.
Adrenal dysregulation. If you have high cortisol levels, yoga has been shown to lower cortisol. High cortisol can cause depression, bone loss, poor memory and thick waistlines. Yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which balances our chronically-activated sympathetic nervous system, or “fight or flight.”
Many of us look for a quick fix for depression, anxiety, fear, insecurity, stress, relationship problems, feeling numb, and emotional immaturity. Go with the long view: figure out what's not working for you and slowly manifest what would suit you better. Yoga helps you cultivate joy, peace, radical self-acceptance and vibrant health. It's proven.
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- Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD
- I'm an organic gynecologist, yoga teacher + writer. I earn a living partnering with women to get them vital and self-realized again. We're born that way, but often fall off the path. Let's take your lousy mood and fatigue, and transform it into something sacred and useful.