The number of health benefits attributed to yoga are vast. So vast that I can barely keep up with the scientific claims that are emerging! Since I submitted the yoga article to Optimyz less than 2 months ago for publication, there have already been more studies published, which isn’t that surprising considering it is a relatively “hot research topic”.
One study I found was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. In it the researchers showed that yoga improved mood and anxiety and, interestingly, this improvement was correlated with an increase in GABA levels in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that, when increased pharmaceutically, can lower anxiety (and elevate calmness) and improve mood. This study is exciting because it suggests that one of the ways in which yoga may exert its mood enhancing effects is through changes in the neurochemistry. This is a good thing to consider for those seeking holistic and non-drug approaches to health and wellness. And perhaps, similar to the runners high that is mediated through endorphins (the brain’s natural analgesic system), we may have just found a brain system that mediates the “yoga high”.
Another interesting study that I stumbled upon was published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Here, the researchers showed that laughter yoga was equally as effective as group exercise in reducing symptoms of depression and increasing life satisfaction in elderly women.
What is laughter yoga, you ask? Indeed, despite us Westerns being most familiar with physical yoga (known as Hatha yoga), there are many forms of yoga, and laughter yoga is one of the non-traditional forms. Imagine, going to class to laugh. Sounds fun! Other newer forms of yoga include yoga dance (just as the name suggests!) and yin yoga (slow, deep-tissue yoga). Some of the ancient forms include knowledge-based yoga (Jnana yoga), devotional yoga (Bhakti yoga), and even the yoga of doing service (Karma yoga) to name but a few. Many of these forms have yet to be studied scientifically in the West. Hatha yoga is currently dominating the scientist’s interests just the same as it is dominating most of yoga-goers schedules! But if one of these other ones piques your interest then I suggest that you give it a try. You can many through workshops, rather than regular classes, by contacting any local yoga studio and making an inquiry. Or send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org and I can refer you to an appropriate person in your region.