(eCandida) As it turns out, yoga is no longer just a gentle stretching for aging hippies. Ongoing research shows that this ancient ritual improves mood, helps breast cancer survivors, reduces inflammation and counteracts fibromyalgia.
It's common knowledge that yoga improves mood and shrugs off stress, but until recently, we didn't know why. Chris Streeter, MD, and his colleagues from Boston University School of Medicine discovered that it may be because of yoga's ability to increase levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an endogenous antidepressant neurotransmitter present in the brain.
They followed several healthy individuals who were divided into two groups. The first group practiced yoga over a 12-week long period, while the participants in the other group walked for the same period of time. At the end of the study, researchers evaluated psychological state of both groups and found that subjects who practiced yoga experienced a greater decrease in anxiety and more significant improvements in mood than those who walked.
"Over time, positive changes in these reports were associated with climbing GABA levels," explains Streeter. The findings of the study demonstrate that yoga is superior to other types of exercise in its positive effects on anxiety and overall mood.
Yoga reduces inflammation and helps chronically ill
According to last year's studies, yoga exercises may have the ability to improve recovery of breast cancer survivors and combat fibromyalgia:
- Conventional cancer treatments leave many women in pain, immobilized, depressed and tired. That's why Amy Speed-Andrews from University of Alberta decided to examine how a 10-week session of Iyengar yoga makes a difference in the recovery of women struggling with breast cancer. The results were impressive as 94 percent of study participants experienced improvements in their quality of life and 87 percent reported being happier. 80 percent also said they were less tired.
- Fibromyalgia is a medical disorder characterized by fatigue and chronic widespread pain. Fortunately, the journal Pain published a study comparing 53 female subjects that proved that an eight-week yoga program can combat a wide variety of fibromyalgia symptoms. Participants of the study experienced a reduction in depression (up to 42 percent), pain (24%) and fatigue (30%).
Furthermore, yoga also reduces the amount of cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) in the blood. This compound is associated with the body's inflammatory response and plays one of the key roles in a host of debilitating diseases. "We know that inflammation plays a major role in many diseases. Yoga appears to be a simple and enjoyable way to add an intervention that might reduce risks for developing heart disease, diabetes and other age-related diseases," says Ron Glaser, a co-author of a study that revealed the link between yoga and inflammation.
For the study, the scientists analyzed blood samples of 50 women, age 41 on average. As a result, those who had regularly practiced yoga for one or two years had significantly lower levels of inflammation than novices. They were also better able to limit their stress responses, too.
"People need to be educated about this," says Bill Malarkey, one of the co-authors of the study. "They need to be taking responsibility for their health and how they live. Doing yoga and similar activities can make a difference."