Improve Your Mood with Asana

by | Aug 24, 2022 | Neuroscience of Yoga | 3 comments

improve your mood with asana

The list of yoga’s mental and physical benefits is long. Scientists are now beginning to uncover why yoga practitioners experience substantial enhancement in their level of wellbeing.

It all comes back to a key neurotransmitter associated with stress. 

Let’s talk about mental health and – most importantly – how to maintain it. Mental health and wellness are especially critical to understand and tend to. No matter what a person’s life circumstances are, suffering is part of the human experience. Anxiety, depression, and trauma are a few of the most prevalent obstacles which block people from living their full potential. Trauma gets trapped in the nervous system. The stress and pressure of life can make it hard to get out of bed, and any given day might bring a constant stream of lousy news. 

We all experience our brains and bodies operating in a reality which is largely beyond our control. What we can control, however, is our level of self-care, and the patience we show ourselves when life gives us lemons with no sugar to sweeten them. Yoga asanas are not the end-all-be-all solution to improve mental health, but they certainly serve as a complement to enhance overall mental wellbeing, and this is in addition to the physical benefits of postural yoga.

A growing body of research supports asana (physical yoga postures) as capable of increasing a key neurotransmitter associated with stress and mood. This neurotransmitter is called Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). 

What is GABA and what is its role in the brain? 

GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that blocks messages between the neurons throughout the brain or spinal cord, including nerve signals for fear and stress. A healthy nervous system depends on the balance between two dominant neurotransmitters in the brain. One that is excitatory, called glutamate, and the other that is inhibitory, which is GABA. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers which transmit messages between neurons. GABA has many functions, including regulation of behavior, motor control, mood, and sleep. With low levels of GABA, conditions such as anxiety, depression, and trauma may worsen. A GABA imbalance in the brain can lead to numerous neurological and psychiatric diseases.

improve your mood with asana

A well-known mainstream fact about yoga is that it reduces stress, which is true. GABA levels are one of the reasons for this stress-reduction effect.  

Researchers have discovered that practitioners increased their GABA levels by 27% after a single yoga session. Additional research supported these findings with a study that measured GABA levels after 6-12 weeks of practicing yoga. Sure enough, GABA increased substantially after 6-12 weeks, even more so than after one single yoga session. Compared to a group of people whose only exercise was walking, practicing yoga produced larger increases in GABA levels. 

Low levels of GABA are related to anxiety, depression, and overall mood.

If you struggle with the agonizing repetition of symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, sadness, and a sense of unfulfillment, yoga may be a powerful tool to achieve a calm and focused mind. 

If you want to experience the mental (and physical) benefits of yoga practice, read our guide to finding a yoga teacher or studio. Though you may have to step out of your comfort zone and spend some time finding the right setting for your yoga practice, a little bit of effort could unlock the door to a lifetime of enhanced mental and physical health. 

From stress reduction to a euphoric sense of calm, the benefits of regular yoga practice aren’t just a nice idea – they’ve been confirmed by modern science.

If you have questions about how to get started or want to connect with others who are making a yoga practice an integral part of their life, join the welcoming HelloYogaWorld community chat here

References 

Gothe, N. P., Khan, I., Hayes, J., Erlenbach, E., & Damoiseaux, J. S. (2019). Yoga effects on brain health: A systematic review of the current literature. Brain Plasticity, 5(1), 105-122.

Streeter, C. C., Gerbarg, P. L., Brown, R. P., Scott, T. M., Nielsen, G. H., Owen, L., … & Silveri, M. M. (2020). Thalamic gamma aminobutyric acid level changes in major depressive disorder after a 12-week Iyengar yoga and coherent breathing intervention. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 26(3), 190-197.

Streeter, C. C., Gerbarg, P. L., Saper, R. B., Ciraulo, D. A., & Brown, R. P. (2012). Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Medical hypotheses, 78(5), 571-579.

Streeter, C. C., Jensen, J. E., Perlmutter, R. M., Cabral, H. J., Tian, H., Terhune, D. B., … & Renshaw, P. F. (2007). Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: a pilot study. The journal of alternative and complementary medicine, 13(4), 419-426.
Streeter, C. C., Whitfield, T. H., Owen, L., Rein, T., Karri, S. K., Yakhkind, A., Perlmutter, R., Prescot, A., Renshaw, P. F., Ciraulo, D. A., & Jensen, J. E. (2010). Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels: a randomized controlled MRS study. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 16(11), 1145–1152.

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3 Comments

  1. Tad

    Yes! I love knowing what’s behind the positive changes which come from making the effort to do yoga. It definitely adds to the motivation. I love that HelloYogaWorld is about combing the old and new – ancient wisdom with modern science. Thank you for this excellent article.

    Reply
  2. Michael

    I love this article and to know it’s so well researched too! Those references 👍🏼

    Reply
  3. Hümeyra Cengiz

    I knew some facts about stress reduction effect of yoga but I didn’t know such striking numbers and facts about GABA! Thanks a lot Kelsie, I will use the information in my classes now 🙂

    Reply

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