Yoga asanas or postures have been practiced for over 5,000 years. Yoga has been around so long and has continued to grow in popularity in the last 10-15 years it, particularly in the West, for many reasons. One compelling reason is that it has a significant positive effect on mood, according to recent research.*
Stress is a part of life; in fact, stress is one factor that enables our emotional and psychological growth by developing healthy coping skills. On the flip side, our inability to tolerate stress is one key factor that leads to problems with mood.
Yoga lowers stress response by decreasing physiological arousal — for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. There is also evidence that yoga helps increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s ability to respond more flexibly to stress.
In a research experiment in Germany, 24 women who reported problems with mood regulation and depression were asked to do two 90-minute yoga classes per week for three months. A control group of 24 women with similar mood problems were asked not to alter their normal routines. At the end of three months, women in the yoga group reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being. Depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. Initial complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality also resolved much more often in the yoga group than in the control group.
Although this is one study with a small sample size, the results, combined with yoga’s longevity, can lead us to conclude that adding yoga to our lives will be beneficial, at the very least. In the best case, it could reduce the need for medication and therapy. In other words, yoga is a prescription that everyone can take and that has lots of potential benefits without negative side effects.
* Brown RP, et al. “Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Part I — Neurophysiologic Model,” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Feb. 2005): Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 189–201.