Many yogis will tell you that regularly practicing the ancient art calms them down and lifts their spirits. Now findings published today in Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine show yoga produced greater improvements in mood than walking, suggesting the discipline may have beneficial effects beyond physical activity.
In a small study involving 34 people, researchers divided the participants into two groups and assigned each group to a 12-week program of either walking three times a week for an hour or practicing yoga three times a week for an hour. According to a news release:
Using magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging, the participants' brains were scanned before the study began. At week 12, the researchers compared the GABA levels of both groups before and after their final 60-minute session.
Each subject was also asked to assess his or her psychological state at several points throughout the study, and those who practiced yoga reported a more significant decrease in anxiety and greater improvements in mood than those who walked.
Past studies have also shown yoga could be an effective stress management tool and help in treating anxiety and depression. Stanford instructor Kelly McGonigal, PhD, released a book earlier this year exploring the use of yoga to combat pain.