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Study shows yoga to improve anxiety

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YOGA improves symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, a condition with chronic nervousness and worry, suggesting the popular practice may be helpful in treating anxiety in some people during these trying times.

Led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, a new study found that yoga was significantly more effective for generalized anxiety disorder than standard education on stress management, but not effective as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the gold standard form of structured talk therapy that helps patients identify negative thinking for better responses to challenges.

Researchers found study participants in both CBT and yoga were significantly more effective for anxiety than stress management. Specifically, 54 percent of those who practiced yoga met response criteria for meaningfully improved symptoms compared to 33 percent in the stress-education group. Of those treated with CBT, 71 percent met these symptom improvement criteria.

However, after six months of follow-up, the CBT response remained significantly better than stress education (the control therapy), while yoga was no longer significantly better, suggesting CBT may have more robust, longer-lasting anxiety-reducing effects.

Another yoga method, Kundalini yoga included physical postures, breathing techniques, relaxation exercises, yoga theory, and meditation/mindfulness practice.

The stress-management education control group received lectures about the physiological, psychological and medical effects of stress, as well as the antianxiety effects of lifestyle behaviors, such as reducing alcohol and smoking, and the importance of exercise and a healthy diet. Homework consisted of listening to educational material about stress, nutrition, and lifestyle.

While most people feel anxious from time to time, it is considered a disorder when worrying becomes excessive and interferes with day-to-day life.

CBT is considered the gold standard first-line treatment. Medications, including antidepressants and sometimes benzodiazepines, may also be used. Yet, not everyone is willing to take medication which can have adverse side effects and there are challenges with accessing CBT for many, including lack of access to trained therapists and long waitlists.

“This study suggests that at least short-term there is significant value for people with generalized anxiety disorder to give yoga a try to see if it works for them. Yoga is well-tolerated, easily accessible, and has a number of health benefits,” said lead study author Dr. Naomi M. Simon, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health.

“Our findings demonstrate that yoga, which is safe and widely available, can improve symptoms for some people with this disorder and could be a valuable tool in an overall treatment plan.” Dr. Simon added. (NYU Langone Health / NYU School of Medicine)