How yoga reduces stress and anxiety


Thinking about trying yoga? Discover how this practice reduces anxiety and stress and its benefits.

“Yoga induces a relaxation response and helps you connect mind, breath and body by ensuring you pay attention to them,” says Michael de Manincor, Executive Director of the Yoga Foundation in Sydney.

In short, yoga is a win-win for your mood and emotions. This is because it:

Improves brain function: Practising yoga just three times a week can help people react with greater accuracy and speed during tests designed to measure brain function, shows research from the University of Illinois.

Lifts your body confidence: Women who practise yoga have greater body satisfaction and fewer symptoms of eating disorders according to research published in Psychology of Women Quarterly.

Boosts GABA levels: Engaging in cat postures and fish poses and all kinds of asanas increases this super-important calming brain chemical, shows research from Boston University. Gamma-aminobutyric acid is called an ‘inhibitory neurotransmitter’ because it works in the brain a little like taking a chill pill. Just one session of yoga can boost your GABA levels, ensuring that you’re not edgy, because your brain cells can fire too much or too quickly 24/7. For this reason, yoga can also help reduce depression and anxiety.

Slashes stress hormones: When your hard drive crashes or you run late to an important meeting, your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis kicks into overdrive. This creates a whole cascade of effects including fluid retention and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This can trigger greater fat storage and weight gain even though you haven’t changed your diet. It can also mess with your sleep and mood. Enter yoga, which dampens down the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and lowers your heart rate. This then helps take your HPA axis out of the fast lane and puts it in a mode that is closer to cruise control.

Increases happiness: “I recently completed research that showed yoga can help increase happiness,” says Michael de Manincor. “We gave individuals one-on-one sessions with a yoga teacher who helped them to work out a personalised yoga program to engage in at home. After doing this for about three times a week for six weeks, the participants enjoyed many benefits.” 

These included reductions in depression (by per cent), anxiety (by 26), distress (by 34) and emotions and negative experiences (by 17). Meanwhile, there were many increases too. The yoga group enjoyed an increase in positive emotions (by 19), resilience (by 13) and an improvement in their overall mental health  (20). “All they were doing on average was about 12 to 15 minutes of yoga three to five times a week,” de Manincor says. “That’s very clear proof that yoga can not only make you happier, it can help you flourish.”