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A group of 30 clinically depressed patients were randomly divided into two groups. Both groups engaged in lyengar yoga and coherent breathing with the only difference being the number of 90 minute yoga session and home sessions in which each group participated. Over three months, the high-dose group (HDG) was assigned three sessions per week while the low-intensity group (LIG) was assigned two sessions per week. Participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of their brain before the first yoga session and after the last yoga session. They also completed a clinical depression scale to monitor their symptoms.
Results showed that both groups had improvement in depressive symptoms after three months. MRI analysis found that GABA levels after three months of yoga were elevated (as compared to prior to starting yoga) for approximately four days after the last yoga session but the increase was no longer observed after approximately eight days. "The study suggests that the associated increase in GABA levels after a yoga session are 'time-limited' similar to that of pharmacologic treatments such that completing one session of yoga per week may maintain elevated levels of GABA," explained corresponding author Chris Streeter, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at BUSM.
According to the researchers, providing evidence-based data will be helpful in getting more individuals to try yoga as a strategy for improving their health and well-being.
A unique strength of this study is that pairing the yoga intervention with brain imaging provides important neurobiological insight as to the 'how' yoga may help to alleviate depression and anxiety. In this study, we found that an important neurochemical, GABA, which is related to mood, anxiety and sleep, is significantly increased in association with a yoga intervention." Marisa Silveri, PhD, collaborator, co-author, neuroscientist at McLean Hospital and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
These findings appear in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine . Source:
Boston University School of Medicine Journal reference:
Streeter, C.C., et al . (2020) Thalamic Gamma Aminobutyric Acid Level Changes in Major Depressive Disorder After a 12-Week Iyengar Yoga and Coherent Breathing Intervention. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine . doi.org/10.1089/acm.2019.0234 .
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