Is Yoga a Miracle Cure for Anxiety?
Yoga has literally been around for centuries. Its roots date all the way back to ancient India as a physical, mental and spiritual discipline. However, Yoga has since evolved with the times, incorporating new methods, practices and beliefs. Despite this, yoga has still managed to stay true to its fundamental principles of balance, inner peace, and unity.
As recently as two decades ago, yoga was largely associated with new age practitioners and post-culture hippies, but public perception of yoga has drastically changed since then. Now, with celebrities and public figures openly embracing the benefits of practicing yoga, the discipline has since gained a larger following all across the world.
Yoga has now managed to penetrate the public consciousness, opening up its doors to more people than ever before. Even the medical and scientific community have begun to embrace the positive and clinical benefits of yoga.
Researchers have stockpiled countless studies on how yoga not only provides a wide range of physical benefits, but also how yoga is capable of treating a good number of psychological and mental conditions as well.
Psychiatrists and psychologists have recently begun exploring the benefits of Yoga in treating conditions such as depression and anxiety; and many anxiety sufferers have begun to testify to its effectiveness.
But is yoga really the miracle for anxiety that millions of people all around the world have been waiting for? And how exactly does yoga alleviate anxiety? Is practicing yoga for anxiety really an effective form of therapy?
What exactly is Yoga?
If you trace back the origins of yoga to the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit, you will discover that yoga actually stands for “union”. This may seem a bit strange for people unfamiliar with yoga since the yogic experience is normally done in solititude. However, a simplified understanding of what yoga means is the bringing together of mind, body and spirit. The true union to be found within the yoga is the union within oneself.
Yogic philosophers believe that the mind, body and spirit is disjointed due to the many distractions, obstacles and sufferings in the world. However, to find true peace we must be able to reunite the different aspects of ourselves.
But now yoga is now commonly understood under a different kind of context, which can be more accurately described through the Sanskrit word asana which refers to the ancient practice of physical poses or postures.
Originally, the word asana only refers to one of the eight fundamental aspects of yoga, with the other aspects having a more defined focus on mental and spiritual well-being. However, contemporary times have since evolved to associate the word asana and yoga so closely that the two have often been interchanged.
For puritans of the ancient practice, yoga is more than the skilful execution of complex poses and postures. In essence, yoga was founded to accomplish a number of far reaching goals that extend much further than the self:
The goals of yoga are varied and range from improving health to achieving… which is liberation from all worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and death (samsara)… The goal of yoga, or of the person practicing yoga, is the attainment of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility while meditating on the Hindu concept of divinity or Brahman.
A serious practitioner of Yoga (someone pursuing the higher spiritual and religious goals of Yoga) takes upon themselves a life of austere self-discipline common to nearly all forms of mystical and religious life. The practices that constitute this self-disciplined life are called in yoga yama and niyama. This self-discipline is the ‘yoke’ that one puts upon oneself for the purpose of attaining moksha. An alternative definition is that Yoga is the method of yoking, or unifying, the “lower” (egoistic) personality (those inclinations that in Hellenistic philosophy and Christianity are called passions) to the “higher” via a process of sublimation. [Wiki]
It’s clear the original intentions of yoga were to allow its practictioners to achieve a state of being well outside the physical realm. But in relating it to modern day practices, how does yoga allieviate stress and anxiety? Is practicing yoga for anxiety and panic attacks really a valid form of therapy?
How Does Yoga Alleviate Stress and Anxiety?
The mental and psychological benefits of exercise are unquestionable. Even simple exercises like a twenty minute jog can go a long way to improving your mental and psychological well-being. And for all intents and purposes, yoga is also a type of exercise in itself.
Although yoga has its roots in balancing the mind, body and spirit, it is primarily a function of the body. It is an exercise regimen that works out various muscles in the body by pushing its range of motion and flexibility. Because of this, yoga manages to allieviate stress and anxiety in the same way as any other type of exercise:
- Yoga releases endorphins into the body.
Studies have shown that exercise gives a person a natural high from the physical activity. This is because endorphins are released into the body during an intense work-out, which gives the brain a feeling of pleasure, accomplisment and contentment.
- Yoga is a great method of detoxification.
Yoga is a particular form of exercise that is known to release a huge amount of sweat from the body. The loss of hydration is also a means of the body to get rid of harmful toxins clogging up our system. By rehydrating ourselves with fresh water, we are able to clean the toxins and chemicals that can aggravate our stress and anxiety levels.
- Yoga has been known to increase the levels of GABA in the body.
GABA is a particular neurotransmitter that is often found to be lacking in individuals suffering from depression and anxiety. Because of this, studies have shown the practitioners of yoga experience below average levels of anxiety, depression, anger and hopelessness. Scientists have long documented the effect of GABA on the mood and well-being of individuals, and yoga is a natural method of increasing GABA in the body.
- Yoga is both naturally calming and relaxing.
Although advanced forms of yoga are considered to be quite intense, yoga has proven to be both caliming and relaxing especially after a session. Because of this, yoga manages to counter short term anxiety by relieving sources of stress. Yoga requires its participants to focus on the position at hand, releasing all kinds of anxiety and worry for the time being.
- Yoga does not require previous athletic experience.
There are sessions of yoga designed particularly for beginners known as FNR (flexibility not required) sessions. These sessions are a great way to introduce yourself and your body to the benefits of yoga alongside a class that is at your skill level. There is no reason to feel intimidated or humiliated when trying yoga for the first time.
- Yoga helps tone the body and aids in weight loss.
Studies have shown that stress and anxiety is related to obesity and being overweight. Yoga reduces stress and anxiety by allowing its practitioners to shed more than a few pounds after a regular routine of sessions.
- Yoga is all natural.
Most sufferers of anxiety disorder look towards anti-anxiety drugs and medication for short term solutions. Unfortunately, these drug-induced treatments normally carry with them a host of side effects that can prove to be more harmful than helpful.
A good number of drugs like Xanax can spark dependency in a person, and a destructive addiction can quickly set in if left unabated. Yoga is an all natural treatment that not only eases the symptoms of anxiety disorder, but does so in a safe yet effective manner.
However, the effects of yoga for anxiety disorder may not be immediate. Its long term effects may only be felt after weeks, maybe even months of regular yoga sessions. Like other forms of exercise, it is a natural solution to aid a healthy mind and body, but it does require an investment of time and effort.
In the end, yoga may not be the miracle cure for anxiety that millions of anxiety sufferers hope it to be. Strictly speaking, it isn’t even a cure at all. Practicing yoga for anxiety and panic attacks is not ordinarily considered a traditional form of treatment. It just so happens that yoga has a host of effects that help in reducing stress and relieving anxiety.
So yoga may not be a silver bullet; but it is an effective way of reducing stress and anxiety, and over time, or even surprisingly quickly, yoga may aid you significantly in finding the peace of mind you desire.