Jun 10, 2007

"Yoga May Help Treat Depression, Anxiety Disorders"

Woman Performing Yoga

Emphasis on the word "may." The article so entitled is heavily caveated. First the good news:

Yoga's postures, controlled breathing and meditation may work together to help ease brains plagued by anxiety or depression, a new study shows.

Brain scans of yoga practitioners showed a healthy boost in levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) immediately after a one-hour yoga session. Low brain levels of GABA are associated with anxiety and depression, the researchers said.

"I am quite sure that this is the first study that's shown that there's a real, measurable change in a major neurotransmitter with a behavioral intervention such as yoga," said lead researcher Dr. Chris Streeter, assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine.

Now, for the bad news: None of the research subjects actually suffered from these or other psychological disorders.

[Zindel Segal, chairman of psychotherapy and a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Toronto] also pointed out that all of the people in the study were mentally healthy, and clinical depression and anxiety disorders involve more than the "daily fluctuations in stress and tension" that healthy individuals are prone to.

The control group used in the study sat and read -- a rather cerebral activity and far from stress reducing depending on what one reads. The study did not compare different types of physical activities, or even other forms of meditation. Segal again:

"We know that yoga can have a profound effect" on smoothing out life's daily ups and downs, Segal said. "But so does working out on a Stairmaster for an hour."

On the plus side, we now know a little more about why yoga is really good for healthy people.

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