Yoga Stretches Brain Chemical

GABA yoga postureUS researchers have used a specialist brain scanning technique, magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging, which is effectively an MRI scan carried out at the molecular level to reveal the effects of yoga practice on the brain. Specifically, they have investigated how concentrations of the feel-good compound gamma-aminobutyric (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter, change after regular practice of yoga postures.

Eric Jensen and colleagues at Harvard Medical School looked at eight subjects prior to and after one hour of yoga as well as eleven control subjects who read a book rather than undertaking the yoga exercises. Although the samples are very small, they saw a marked difference in GABA levels in the yoga practitioners compared to the readers. Their findings suggest that yoga, and perhaps other forms of exercise, should be investigated as a complementary treatment for depression and anxiety disorders, which are commonly associated with low levels of GABA.

You can read more on this in my write-up over on Click here for the Sciencebase complementary medicine roundup

12 thoughts on “Yoga Stretches Brain Chemical”

  1. New research
    published April 2008 – “A growing body of research suggests that traditional mind-body practices such as yoga, tai chi, and qigong may offer safe and cost-effective strategies for reducing insulin resistance syndrome-related risk factors for cardiovascular disease in older populations, including postmenopausal women.”

    Any thoughts people?


  2. Has anyone taken a look at the Yoga Periodic Table? I can highly recommend it (I got hold of one for my wife, who is a yoga teacher). It will hang in pride of place in her boudoir once it’s back from the framers.


  3. Deb – my wife is a yoga instructor, she’s practiced since she was in her early 20s, so been at it a while (tee hee), the key phrase she uses is learning the ability to “let go”, which is fairly synonymous with “surrender” I suppose. As she explains it though it’s not just about letting go in practice but in all aspects of one’s life…and death.

    Amy – I cannot say I’ve ever suffered hardcore insomnia, but there are nights when I cannot get to sleep or when I wake up for no apparent reason and then cannot get back to sleep. I use a little yoga then, in fact it’s a technique my dad taught me when I was a kid (although he didn’t know it as yoga at the time). Basically, involves focusing on toes, feet, calves and working up the body (in your head) relaxing each part as you go, until you drift off again.

  4. I have been practicing yoga for 27 years (regularly, 3 or more times per week) and teaching for nearly 10 years. Among my student population are teenagers but mostly men and women between 30-70. The “trick” to yoga (if there is one) is to surrender, which is quite challenging for most of us. A short story: a 17-year-old student of mine, while taking a killer test began to panic. She heard my voice in her head. What was I saying? “Focus on your right big toe.” She said just that small amount of focus outside her head relaxed her and she aced the test. Yoga works for relaxation, and having the right teacher for you is imperative.

    Virgina, if you are feeling restless in a yoga class, you are missing the most germaine parts of the practice. Imagine using your breath as a conduit to letting go of tension.

  5. I showed this piece to my Mom because she’s a yoga instructor. I suffered from hardcore insomnia for several years (now it’s much improved because I got treatment). When I had difficulties sleeping my Mom would insist that I do nightime relaxation poses. If I actually did them, breathing the way I was supposed to, really trying to relax into the pose, I think it did help me fall asleep.

    But the insomnia was so bad that I also had to take several medications to get it under control. Interestingly they all affect re-uptake of GABA. One of them is actually called Gabitril. So now that I know that yoga enhances GABA production I have a better idea of why, on a chemical level, those nightime yoga routines helped. I still rest in child’s pose for about five mintues every night before I got to sleep.

    Interestingly, Xyrem, the “date rape drug” which is actually used for severe insomnia also works on the GABA receptors. So GABA really does influence how relax and… pass out!


  6. It is true that any kind of exercise helps in reducing stress. My experience has been that Yoga is more effective when you completely tune in your mind and body. It requires lot of discipline and submission. It is believed that a flickering mind is the biggest barrier to achieving peace and calmness within you. Thanks

  7. Yep, my gut feeling is that it’s just “activity” of almost any sort that affects the brain in a positive way, whether it’s yoga, cycling, swimmng, working out, dancing, or a bit of the other

  8. Probably it is not just from yoga.
    I get that happy feeling from my dancing classes.
    yoga, on the other hand, doesn’t do anything for me. On the contrary, makes me feel restless.

  9. It turns out that exercise has a similar effect to antidepressants on depression, according to a report published this month by Swedish scientists.

  10. Yes, I usually incorporate a few yoga postures into my general workout at the gym, it’s definitely more than good for the soul, as it were.

  11. It’s been a few years since I did yoga on a regular basis. And it truly made me feel tons better and more at peace even after a short 15 minute session in my living room. I should pull out those videotapes again. I sure miss my teacher in Baltimore, though. Having a good class to go to is better than anything.

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