Yoga for Anxiety, is it the Holy Grail Solution?

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Yoga for Anxiety, is it the Holy Grail Solution?

Stress and anxiety are sometimes normal reactions to life events. However, modern society’s quick speed and uncertainty produce crippling stress and anxiety for some. Chronic, unmanaged stress reduces our quality of life and contributes to increasing health concerns and illnesses worldwide.

It is a psycho-social catastrophe exacerbated by the COVID-19 epidemic. Anxiety levels in the United States more than quadrupled in the second quarter, rising from 8.1 per cent in 2019 to 25.5 per cent in 2020. The resulting unpleasant feelings are traumatic, but they also weaken our immune systems. It is tough, but not impossible, to manage these exhausting feelings.

Exercise, breathing methods, relaxation, and meditation have demonstrated results to help people cope with anxiety. It’s no wonder that classical Yoga — a practice that encompasses all four techniques — has become more popular as a way to deal with worry. On the other hand, Yoga has not received the same level of attention from medical studies.

That is starting to change. According to health care professionals and researchers like me, Yoga is a potent tool for managing emotions and lowering anxiety.

Yoga as a Mind-Body Therapy (Yoga for Anxiety)

When anxiety levels rise, it may interfere with daily activities and overall well-being, meeting the rules of conduct for an anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Mental symptoms include:

  • Persistent increased worry and stress throughout the day.
  • Inability to relax.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Fear of disaster.
  • Excessive concern about life situations.

Patients cannot regulate this, even though they are aware that their worry is excessive. However, many anxiety symptoms are somatic, such as muscle tightness, shaking, sweating, and insomnia. Such symptoms result from the fight or flight stress response, which prepares the mind and body for real or imagined threats by triggering profound changes in the body, mind, and emotions.

Pharmaceuticals are commonly used in conventional medical treatments for anxiety, although they do not always address the underlying reasons for worry. Psychotherapeutic therapies, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT; considered the gold standard behavioural GAD treatment), manage underlying anxiety in many individuals, although they are not successful for everyone.

Both techniques are primarily concerned with the mental aspects of anxiety.

Given the physical symptoms of worry, it stands to reason that any effective anxiety treatment should target both the mind and the body, which is why Yoga is such an excellent option. Yoga can help with both the symptoms and causes of anxiety and the tools needed for emotional regulation.

Anxiety can swiftly overwhelm us, causing us to react automatically with no break, filter, or interval for a response. Yoga practice breaks the tendencies that cause this natural behaviour. Yoga’s meditation practice focuses on developing self-regulation of your brain’s attention networks. You become more sensitive and less negatively reactive to your thoughts and living conditions as you get more expertise at the interface between your mental processes and emotion management.

Through the mind-body link, the physical components of yoga practice operate well on anxiety symptoms in the body while also influencing cognitive functioning. Overall, these abilities allow us to exert some control over our emotional states and how we react to stressful situations. It’s what makes Yoga’s mind-body practice so effective.

Yoga for Anxiety, is it the Holy Grail Solution? continued

Scientific Community Evidence

An increasing corpus of data supports Yoga’s beneficial effect on anxiety and anxiety disorders. Recent meta-analyses (review studies that summarize statistical results from many prior clinical trials) of Yoga for anxiety have found that Yoga may be a valuable and safe intervention for people who have anxiety disorders or have elevated anxiety levels. Other researchers have discovered that yoga for children and adolescents may also lower anxiety, which is encouraging considering the prevalence of anxiety problems in young people.

Much of our research has concentrated on Yoga as a remedy for emotional and physical wellness. Yoga is a well-known practice that combines movement, postures, dynamic breathing methods, profound relaxation, meditation, and mantras. It is a yoga style that focuses on enhancing physical functionality, mind-body self-regulation, enhanced mind-body awareness, and the enhancement of good psychological moods.

These moods are examples of feelings of serenity, equilibrium, well-being, compassion, gratitude, and ultimately depth of self, transcendence, life purpose & meaning, and spirituality.

I’ve been researching Yoga’s effectiveness in increasing emotional well-being. That work contributed to a study that found that a Yoga treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder was beneficial (PTSD). [5] I’ve also looked at supplementing CBT with Yoga to help GAD. [6] The findings demonstrated statistically significant reductions in state and trait anxiety, sadness, panic, sleep, and quality of life, indicating its potential as a promising treatment for patients suffering from GAD.

Following the positive findings of a pilot investigation of Yoga alone as a therapy for GAD, our most significant research trial of Yoga for GAD was published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry last August. This large, well-conducted randomized controlled trial randomly allocated individuals with GAD to either Yoga, CBT, or a stress education control condition for a 12-week intervention.

Participants participated in weekly group sessions and daily 20-minute home practice sessions.

The findings demonstrated that Kundalini Yoga was a reliable treatment. It was even more effective than stress education in treating GAD, but it was not as successful as CBT’s gold standard. Given that standard GAD treatments are not totally successful or readily accessible to everyone, these findings support the use of Yoga as an adjunct treatment for anxiety and anxiety disorders. 

These findings are significant steps in establishing that classical Yoga (which includes physical exercises and controlled breathing, relaxation, and meditation) is incredibly successful at stress and emotion management.

Exercise at Home

Yoga for anxiety: While academics continue to make a case for Yoga as a therapy method for the medical system, nothing prohibits you from utilizing Yoga for self-care. One of the many attractive characteristics of Yoga is that it requires no special equipment — though a yoga mat is practical — so you may practice Yoga in your living room.

Try a yoga sequence or meditation at home when feeling stressed or anxious. It is usually better to train with a qualified instructor to ensure appropriate practice. Still, there are many techniques you may easily follow on your own while socially isolating yourself during the pandemic. 

For more tips on successful home practice, view our blog


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  2. H. Cramer, R. Lauche, D. Anheyer, K. Pilkington, M. de Manincor, G. Dobos, and L. Ward. A systematic review and analysis of randomized controlled trials on yoga for anxiety. Anxiety can be reduced. Sep 2018;35(9):830-843. The doi is 10.1002/da.22762. Publish date: April 26, 2018. 29697885 is the PMID.
  3. Hofmann SG, Andreoli G, Carpenter JK, Curtiss J. A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Hatha Yoga on Anxiety. Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine. 2016;9(3):116-124. doi:10.1111/jebm.12204
  4. Darragh AR, Weaver LL. Yoga Interventions for Anxiety Reduction in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review DOI: 10.5014/ajot.2015.020115. PMID: 26565100. Am J Occup Ther. 2015 Nov-Dec;69(6):6906180070p1-9. DOI: 10.5014/ajot.2015.020115.
  5. Farah Jindani, Nigel Turner, and Sat Bir S. Khalsa, “A Yoga Intervention for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Preliminary Randomized Control Trial,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2015, Article ID 351746, 8 pages, 2015.
  6. Khalsa, M.K., Greiner-Ferris, J.M., Hofmann, S.G., Khalsa, S.G., Khalsa, S.G., Khalsa, S.G., Khalsa A pilot study of yoga-enhanced cognitive behavioural therapy (Y-CBT) for anxiety control. Clin Psychother. 2015 Jul-Aug;22(4):364-71. 10.1002/cpp.1902. May 7, 2014. PMCID: PMC4224639. PMID: 24804619
  7. Gabriel M.G., Curtiss J., Hofmann S.G., and SBS Khalsa. Kundalini Yoga for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Study of Treatment Efficacy and Potential Mechanisms International Journal of Yoga Therapy, November 2018;28(1):97-105. DOI: 10.17761/2018-00003. Epub 2018 April 26. 29698081 (PMID).
  8. Simon NM, Hofmann SG, Rosenfield D, and colleagues. A Randomized Clinical Trial of the Efficacy of Yoga vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs Stress Education for the Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Psychiatry, JAMA. On August 12, 2020, published online. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.2496


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