Anxiety disorders are common, harmful, and under-treated conditions that currently affect approximately 6.8 million Americans. Most people feel anxious from time to time and this is considered a disorder when the anxiety becomes excessive and interferes with daily life. It can lead to a state of chronic stress and anxiety.
A new study finds that for pervasive anxiety, yoga is significantly more effective than stress management therapy, but not as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of talk therapy that helps patients identify negative thoughts so they can better cope with their anxiety.
"Anxiety disorders are very prevalent and many people are unwilling or unable to access evidence-based treatment," Lead study author Naomi M. Simon, Ph.D., said. "The findings suggest that doing yoga in moderation can improve the symptoms of having this disorder."
The study, published online Aug. 12 in JAMA Psychiatry, randomized 226 men and women with anxiety disorders into three groups to be tested: a CBT group, a Kundalini yoga group and a stress management group (standardized management techniques).
After three months, the CBT and yoga groups were found to be more effective than the stress management group in treating anxiety disorders. Specifically, 54% of those who practiced yoga had significant improvements in symptoms, compared to only 33% of the group that received stress management. Of those who received CBT, 71% met the criteria for symptom improvement.
However, after 6 months of follow-up, CBT was still significantly more effective than stress management therapy, while yoga was no longer effective, suggesting that CBT may have a stronger and more lasting anxiety-reducing effect.
In addition to this, a study in the Journal of Neurology had shown that yoga can reduce the frequency, duration and pain of migraines. Lead author Rohit Bhatia of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) noted that only about half of the people taking migraine medication had relief from migraine symptoms.
Bhatia evaluated 114 people between the ages of 18 and 50. They all had periodic migraines, four to 14 times a month. These people were randomly divided into two groups: one group received medication only and the other group received medication and also practiced yoga. Both groups received appropriate medication and lifestyle changes, such as being told to get enough sleep, exercise, and a good diet.
The yoga group practiced three days a week for one hour each time for one month. Practices included breathing exercises, meditation and yoga poses. After the first month, they practiced yoga at home 5 days a week for another 2 months. Participants were written down by the drug company with all the migraine information, including the duration and severity of their attacks and the medications they were taking.
While everyone improved, those who added yoga benefited more. At the beginning of the study, the participants had an average of 9.1 headaches per month, and at the end it was 4.7 headaches per month, a 48 percent reduction. The group taking only medication had 7.7 headaches per month at the beginning of the study and 6.8 per month at the end of the study, a 12 percent decrease.
After three months, the average number of medications taken by the yoga group had decreased by 47%. The average number of pills taken by the medication-taking group decreased by about 12 percent during the same time period.
In a statement, Bhatia said, "Our findings suggest that yoga may not only reduce pain, but also reduce the cost of migraine treatment. More research needs to be done to see if the benefits of doing yoga last longer."