Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels

by:  Nancy Levenson

Just as yoga has many faces; Integrative Yoga Therapy, Birkram, Iyengar, Ashtanga, etc., depression too has many faces; minor, clinical, severe, seasonal and, episodic.  In a study published in 2010 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers set out to determine if the effects of yoga could increase GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) levels of the brain, enhance mood and reduce anxiety of the participants.

GABA is a major neurotransmitter and regulator of our nervous system. The nervous system governs the activities of our body and is responsible for the voluntary conscious and automatic non-conscious activity.  GABA’s role is in the nervous system is to work as an antagonist, firing neurons that block chemicals and induce calming effect.  GABA can be said to support the nervous systems – parasympathetic system, that system of the body responsible for inducing relaxation.

During this research study of a yoga and control group,  the team measured  GABA levels before and after practicing yoga and found that GABA levels had risen by an average 27%.  Mood levels were improved and anxiety lessened in the participants. This led to their conclusion that yoga was an ideal protocol for treating anxiety and depression.  Read the entire research study here.

In my yoga therapy practice, I offer clients one-on-one movement based on their initial health and wellness.  Not every client experiences depression or anxiety in the same way.  In some cases, a client experiencing hyper related symptoms will be guided through a Langhana practice to support their healing, while a client with hypo conditions may undertake a more Brahmana practice.  In both cases, clients participate in a holistic approach to their healing that includes movement, breathing exercises, energy movement, emotional healing, meditation, and lifestyle awareness and tools.  Supporting your healing with the right type of yoga is as important as choosing the right medication and dosage.

Joyful Warrior - NamasteWorksWe also offer an annual program, The Joyful Warrior – bringing more joy into your life through yoga.  This program is offered in a small group setting for a six week period to help clients lift their mood, create movement and share with one another.

NamasteWorks Yoga + Wellness is The Place to Discover Yoga as a Healing Art.  We offer specialized private yoga therapy programs, classes, trainings, workshops and retreats – with healing at the focus.  We serve clients suffering with anxiety, depression, stress, structural issues and respiratory and digestive diseases that seek wellness.  We custom tailor each client’s wellness program based on a vision of health as a unity of body, mind and spirit.

Yoga Therapy – A New or Old Path to Wellness

As the New Year approaches, almost all of us consider ways in which we could be healthier. For those of us with chronic health conditions or overweight, it’s not always that easy to add this to our resolution list. Perhaps, yoga therapy is a path to consider for 2011.

Yoga therapy is not a new emerging field of wellness, yet it differs from what most Westerners have experienced as yoga classes. With its roots dating back thousands of years, yoga therapy is now finding its way as a primary vehicle for optimal wellness for individuals with all sorts of conditions because of its ability to promote health and healing at all levels of a being simultaneously.

Yoga Therapy takes a holistic approach, tapping into the physical, energetic, emotional and spiritual dimensions of an individual, and places equal emphasis on each area of their health. For many of us, symptoms of an illness or disease may occur first in our physical body. We might notice a shortness of breath, a lump in our body, thinning hair, digestive issues or a whole host of other symptoms that lead us to seek health-care.

But to treat just the physical body is to not solve the underlying condition that may have led to our symptoms and illness in the first place. In the case of individuals suffering from depression, to treat just the mind body doesn’t lead to optimal health either.

Thus, a yoga therapist works with their client’s condition in mind at all times and respects that the client is more than just a physical body in their approach to healing. While most yoga postures have therapeutic applications, yoga therapy employs a whole host of yoga tools in addition to postures, to help guide the client back towards optimal wellness, which is after all our true nature.

“Unlike a traditional yoga class where you conform to a given practice, in yoga therapy, the class, conforms to you and what you need to move forward on your path of healing,” said, Nancy Levenson, founder of NamasteWorks Yoga + Wellness a new therapeutic wellness center that opened in downtown Littleton this October.

Yoga therapy is applicable to individuals or groups with specific health challenges such as cancer, asthma, stress, anxiety, auto-immune disorders, digestive disorders, obesity or structural issues like chronic back pain. NamasteWorks Yoga and Wellness offers their clients unique six and eight week wellness programs focused on total back-care, depression, anxiety, breast cancer and yoga specially tailored to plus-sized individuals.

As approaches to health continue to evolve, yoga therapy will play a major role in the healing path for those individuals who chose wellness over illness. So perhaps, 2011 is the year to place optimal health on the resolution list once and for all.

© Namasteworks Yoga + Wellness, LLC. Founder, Nancy Levenson, Serving the Highlands Ranch and Littleton, CO communities. http://www.namasteworksyoga.com