Yoga found to boost feel-good brain chemical

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While the practice of yoga goes back donkey’s years, it has in more recent times enjoyed quite an upsurge in popularity. I have dabbled in yoga myself, and will often recommend it to individuals who are looking for a generally safe way of enhancing physical and mental wellbeing either as part of a class, or in the comfort of one’s own home.

For me, the results people usually report as a result of regular yoga practice speak for themselves: greater flexibility and strength, improved energy levels and sleep and a calmer more contented mind are not uncommon. However, even though the benefits of yoga are often self-evident, I was nonetheless interested recently to learn of a study in which yoga was subjected to formal study.

This American study, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, took 19 individuals, and had them partake in either a 1-hour yoga (asana yoga which involved postures and conscious breathing) session or 1-hour reading session. All subjects were then assessed for brain levels of GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) both before and after the session.

GABA is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that has a generally calming, anti-anxiety effect within the brain.

Individuals who participated in the yoga session saw GABA levels increase by 27 per cent on average. In comparison, those who read saw no change in the levels of this brain chemical.

In this study, the relationship between GABA levels and mood was not assessed. On one level, it would have been nice to see if the heightened GABA induced by yoga translated in into perceived benefits with regard to mental state. On the other hand, mood can be somewhat subjective and difficult to quantify and qualify accurately.

Because of this, I like this study partly because of its attempt to assess yoga with a quite objective measurement. What this study does, to my mind, is help explain objectively some of the subjective benefits that are so-often had by those who practice yoga regularly.

I have to admit, I’ve fallen out of the habit of my own yoga practice since sustaining a shoulder injury (due to faulty front crawl technique!) some months ago. Now my shoulder is better (osteopathy did the trick here), I’m wondering whether this latest study will provide the gentle nudge I need to get me back on the mat.


Streeter CC, et al. Yoga Asana Sessions Increase Brain GABA Levels: A Pilot Study. J Alter Complement Med, 2007;13(4):419-26

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