Yoga can help to treat anxiety disorders, says study

Most of us have thought to ourselves that we really should try yoga.

We know there are a whole load of benefits – improved flexibility, stress reduction, stretching out those sore muscles.

And yet here we sit, on the sofa, our yoga mats gathering dust.

Here’s some fresh motivation: new research suggests yoga does more than simply tackle stress; it could even be used as an effective treatment for those with anxiety disorders.

Doing yoga stretches and adjusting your breathing can improve symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder, a study shows.

In the study, 226 men and women with generalised anxiety disorder were randomly assigned into three groups, each receiving a different mental health treatment: cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), Kundalini yoga, or stress-management education.

Each treatment was given in groups of three to six people over weekly two-hour sessions for 12 weeks with 20 minutes of daily homework assigned.

After three months, both CBT and yoga were found to be ‘significantly’ more effective than stress management education.

More than half of those who practiced yoga for just three months showed meaningfully improved symptoms.

And while CBT was more effective – seven in ten people in this group had improved symptoms, and the effects of this were found to still be better six months later – the research highlights that yoga could be a helpful complementary therapy for those struggling with their mental health.

Basically, it really is worth having a stretch.

Lead study author Professor Naomi Simon, from NYU Langone Health in New York City, USA, said: ‘Generalised anxiety disorder is a very common condition, yet many are not willing or able to access evidence-based treatments.

‘Our findings demonstrate that yoga, which is safe and widely available, can improve symptoms for some people with this disorder and could be a valuable tool in an overall treatment plan.

‘Many people already seek complementary and alternative interventions, including yoga, to treat anxiety.

‘This study suggests that at least short-term there is significant value for people with generalised anxiety disorder to give yoga a try to see if it works for them.

‘Yoga is well-tolerated, easily accessible, and has a number of health benefits.’

A heads up that along with rolling out your mat and limbering up, for yoga to have those benefits you’ll also need to include the breathing techniques, relaxation exercises, meditation, and mindfulness practices associated with yoga.

You definitely shouldn’t ditch medical treatment for mental illness in favour of jumping right into yoga, but the research suggests it could be worth adding weekly yoga sessions into your routine as part of your self-care.

But as always, if you’re struggling with anxiety do chat with your GP about treatment options, which may include medication, CBT (which, as we said above, was found to be the most effective treatment of the three tested), and talking therapy.

Dr Simon added: ‘We need more options to treat anxiety because different people will respond to different interventions, and having more options can help overcome barriers to care.

‘Having a range of effective treatments can increase the likelihood people with anxiety will be willing to engage in evidence-based care.’

Need support? Contact the Samaritans

For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

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