Fans of yoga claim that yoga is proven to provide anxiety relief. Given that an estimated 20 percent of Americans now take some sort of pill for a psychological problem, anxiety relief is a major selling point for yoga. However, is there anything more than anecdotal evidence to support this claim? The next time a yoga student asks you this question, here’s how you can respond.
University of Rochester Study on Cancer, Sleep and Yoga
Cancer patients or those who have previously had cancer are one of the groups of people most at risk for anxiety disorders. As many as 30 percent to 90 percent of people who have had cancer report that they have trouble sleeping at night; while some of this insomnia is due to cancer treatments, others have sleepless nights due to anxiety over their illness.
Researchers at the University of Rochester recently studied over 400 individuals in 12 different cities with a history of cancer who also have trouble sleeping. Half of them took yoga while the other half stuck with standard medical interventions for their sleeplessness. Those taking yoga classes were able to reduce how frequently they took a sleep aid by more than 20 percent while also reporting less daytime sleepiness and improved quality of sleep.
Harvard Review of Yoga Studies
In 2009, a Harvard Health Publications newsletter called the “Harvard Mental Health Letter” reviewed a number of studies involving yoga, anxiety and depression. The newsletter article concluded that several studies from the past decade offer compelling evidence that yoga definitely helps regulate the stress response system of the body, thereby reducing anxiety and the physical symptoms associated with it. Here are a few highlights from that newsletter article:
– A German study in 2005 looked at women with depression and anxiety. After three months of yoga, these women reduced their self-reported depression by 50 percent and their anxiety by 30 percent.
– In a New Hampshire psychiatric hospital, schizophrenic patients who took yoga classes reported short-term improvements in anxiety, depression, hostility and similar mental problems.
– An Australian study wanted to see if yoga could improve PTSD symptoms in disabled Vietnam veterans. At the end of six weeks of yoga, the PTSD symptoms of veterans in the study went from “moderate to severe” to “mild to moderate.” By comparison, those in the control group reported no significant change in their symptoms.
The studies mentioned above are just the beginning of research-based proof demonstrating that yoga helps in reducing anxiety. Without doubt, similar studies in the future will confirm what thousands of yoga practitioners have already experienced for themselves.
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