Studies show that yoga is associated with more anxiety reduction than any other exercises; for example one study finds that in women with high levels of self-reported anxiety, two months of yoga reduced state (i.e., transitory) and trait (i.e., permanent, a personality characterisitc) anxiety compared to no treatment. Similarly, there is evidence in the literature that yoga has beneficial effects in anxiety disorders, such as significant reduction of anxiety and depression symptoms in PTSD.
In generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), one theory suggests that worry mitigates anxiety symptoms by applying words to a feared experience instead of imagery. Describing the feared event in words provides temporary relief in the short term by reducing cardiovascular response; however in the long term it leads to physiologic dysfunction including poor parasympathetic control (i.e., the branch of the autonomic system that helps the body to relax), and decreased brain GABA activity (i.e., neurotransmitter that inhibits certain responses).
Cultivating mindfulness on the other hand encourages acceptance of one’s experience, thereby reducing avoidance of unwanted negative internal experiences. As an essential component of yoga practices, mindfulness results in diminished reliance on worry and decreased anxiety in GAD. Results from the current case study support those conclusions by showing that yoga improves the symptoms and physiological dysfunctions associated with GAD.
Intriguingly, all participants showed an increased in mindful awareness, but that change did not correspond to a decrease in anxiety and worry. However, they all displayed high-frequency heart rate variability, which is a physiological index of emotion regulation, suggesting ability to cope with emotions. Therefore, although the worrying did not stop, they were able to better cope with their feelings.
Yasmina Rebani Lee
Morgan JR, Sullivan M, Masuda A, Tully E, Cohen LL, Anderson PL. A Case Series on the Effects of Kripalu Yoga for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Int J Yoga Therap. 2016