Yoga is one of many mind and body practices that claim to use interactions among the mind, body, and behavior to promote health. While there are many approaches (including meditation, tai chi, music therapy, and qigong), their goals are not dissimilar, and there are many overlapping features between these mind-body practices.
Yoga is becoming increasingly popular. It can help with a myriad of conditions, including fitness, strength, flexibility, balance and mobility, quality of life, pain control, cardiovascular disease, smoking cessation, asthma, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, and cognitive function.
Researchers have examined the upsides of practicing yoga in over three hundred randomized controlled studies. More the one hundred meta-analyses (reviews of a collection of research investigations) have been performed. Today, we’ll look at the evidence for stress and anxiety.
A meta-analysis of the effects of Hatha yoga on anxiety, published in 2016, provides some insight. Researchers identified seventeen studies (eleven waitlist-controlled) involving a cumulative 501 participants who received Hatha yoga. Subjects reported their levels of anxiety before and after practice. Here is what the study authors discovered:
The number of hours of yoga practiced was associated with treatment effectiveness. Those individuals who had the highest levels of anxiety appeared to derive the most benefit, with the effect not varying by study year, gender, presence of a medical disorder, or age.
I would note that the quality of the studies was relatively low. Still, the researchers did not feel study bias was significant.
Yoga and Burnout
A 2018 British Medical Journal study randomized participants to traditional yoga versus mindfulness-based cognitive therapy versus cognitive behavioral therapy in sick leave patients because of burnout.
After twenty weeks, the three interventions appeared to have similar effects for quality of life, especially in burnout.
The study authors concluded that traditional yoga or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy might reduce burnout.
What about in comparison to walking? Small studies have suggested that yoga is more effective than walking (or no treatment) for stress reduction. On the other hand, a separate research investigation pointed to stretching as more significant than yoga in this regard.
I am Dr. Michael Hunter, and I thank you for joining me today.
- Hofmann SG, Andreoli G, Carpenter JK, and Curtiss J. Effect of Hatha yoga on anxiety: A meta-analysis. J Evid Based Med 2016;9(3):116. Epub 2016 May 20.
- Grensman A, Acharya BD, Wandell P, and colleagues. Effect of traditional yoga, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and ognitive behavioral therapy, on health related quality of life: a randomized controlled trial on patients on sicj leave because of burnout. BMC Complement Altern Med 2018; 18(1):80 Epub 2018 Mar 6.
- Falsafi N. A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness versus yoga: Effects on depression and/or anxiety in college students. J Am Psychiatr Nurses Assoc 2016; 22:483.
- Corey SM, Whitfield TH, Owen L, and colleagues. Effects of yoga on stress, stress adaptation, and heart rate variability among mental health professionals — A randomized controlled trial. Worldviews Evid Based Nurs 2015; 12:236.
- Streeter CC, Whitfield TH, Owen L, and colleagues. Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels: a randomized controlled MRS study. J Altern Complement Med 2010; 16:1145.