Yoga treatments can improve anxiety symptoms
Research Study At A Glance
The Research Question Asked
Can we use yoga as an effective treatment to manage anxiety?
Type of Study
Systematic review and meta-analysis
Study Participants (Sample)
Eight individual randomized control trial studies were included in this larger review and meta-analysis, for a total of 319 participants included. Mean age of participants was 30-38.5 years old.
A meta-analysis (meaning a larger analysis done on multiple smaller combined studies) was conducted for randomized control trials which evaluated the effects of yoga treatments on “anxiety disorders or elevated levels of anxiety”. The individual randomized control trials measured the effects of yoga treatments on anxiety level, remission rate, depression level, and quality of life. Safety of the treatments used in the trial was also evaluated. A search for relevant randomized control trial studies to be included in the larger review study was done through: PubMed, Cochrane library, Scopus, PsychINFO, and IndMED.
Yoga treatments produced small positive effects on anxiety and small reductions in depression when compared with no treatment. When yoga treatments were compared to other types of treatments, there were larger positive effects on anxiety.
Yoga treatments do seem to reduce anxiety in those experiencing anxiety related disorders. Yoga treatments have potential to help manage anxiety.
Generalized anxiety and anxiety disorders are estimated to affect as much as 4% of the US population. Symptoms of anxiety disorders can affect many different areas of someone’s life, including their long-term physical health. Common treatments include medications, psychological therapies, and self help treatments, like support groups. Small clinical trials have indicated that yoga treatments also have the potential to positively affect anxiety.
Is yoga an effective treatment for anxiety?
The authors combined the data from eight individual randomized control studies in a larger analysis (a meta-analysis). A search for relevant randomized control trials to be included in the study was done through: PubMed, Cochrane library, Scopus, PsychINFO, IndMED through October 2016. There were 319 total participants included in the analysis when all of the smaller studies were combined. The sample size in the individual randomized control trials ranged from 12 to 78. The total sample was largely female (median percentage in individual studies was 73.7%) and caucasian (median percentage in individual studies was 78%). Mean age was 30 to 38.5 years old.
Yoga treatments in individual randomized control trials included yoga postures, breathing, or meditation, or combined some aspects of those activities. Individual studies measured some or all of the following after yoga treatments: anxiety level, remission rates, depression levels, quality of life, and safety of yoga treatments.
The authors of this review paper found that yoga treatments resulted in small, short-term positive effects on anxiety and small reductions in depression, when compared to no treatment. They found large positive effects on anxiety when yoga treatments were compared to other types of treatments. Yoga treatments were not found to be correlated with any negative effects such as increased anxiety or injuries, suggesting that it is a safe treatment for anxiety-related disorders.
Why is this relevant to yoga practitioners?
Traditional yoga texts such as, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, state that yoga purports to increase equanimity, so it makes sense then that yoga practice could offer tools to work with clinical anxiety disorders. This review paper suggests that yoga may in fact reduce anxiety compared to either no treatment or other types of treatments. Yoga may be one tool that we can use to manage anxiety.
What is not included in this paper due to the nature of the type of study (a review study) is specific information about which yoga postures, breathing practices, and meditation practices were done, as well as for what duration and how many times per week. However, the authors of the review paper do report that each of those categories of practices (asana, breath control, and meditation) were included in at least one of the smaller studies. That suggests that each of those categories of practice may potentially contribute to reducing symptoms of anxiety-related disorders.
In a previous post, we shared research that suggests the common thread among many yogic practices is a focus on breathing which stimulates the vagal nerve and positively affects the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s possible that this is the commonality among all of the yogic practices that positively affected anxiety symptoms as well. More research would be needed to say that for sure.
Cramer, H., R. Lauche, D. Anheyer, K. Pilk, M. de Manincor, G. Dobos, and L. Ward. 2018. Yoga for anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depression and Anxiety. 35(9):830-843. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22762.
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