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Yoga as Therapy for Anxiety Disorder

Yoga is a part of the philosophies of the Hindu religion. The practice of yoga is designed to quiet the mind, or more specifically, silence the mind. This is not meant as a deterrent to thought, but rather, it allows the mind to release subjective thought and accept objective reality.

Yoga, it would seem, is an ideal practice to bring peace to a mind wrought with anxiety.

Anyone who has experienced a panic attack cannot explain why she was suddenly so afraid, why her mind was filled with the certainty that a tragedy was about to befall her, her spouse or her children. The fear was simply there, pervasive and persistent in its force.

There are different kinds of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and social phobia. The symptoms sufferers exhibit are similar, though.

She trembles and may seem disoriented. Her heart races and though her palms and face are sweaty, she is cold and may shiver uncontrollably. She feels dizzy and her “fight or flight” response kicks in; she either becomes manic or passes out.

The practice of yoga is designed to quiet the mind. The lungs expand and rest, expand and rest. The slow, even breaths bring needed oxygen to every cell in the body. The muscles stretch, expand and rest, become more elastic. The eyes begin to focus not on the outer world, but on the spirit within.

The movements in yoga are measured and deliberate. A practitioner breaths deeply while moving her body into a pose. The pose is held for the beat of a breath, and then slowly the body returns to a state of rest, for the beat of breath. The practitioner breaths in, breaths out.

This decelerated rhythm creates a kind of safe environment for anyone suffering from anxiety. The physiological effect of yoga on neurotransmitters in the brain has been a subject of several studies, the most notable being a study published in the May 2007 issue of the “Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine”.

The results demonstrated that those who practiced yoga on a daily basis had higher levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric, or GABA. Low levels of gamma-aminobutyric have been associated with depression and anxiety disorders. Practicing yoga on a consistent basis, then, boosts the level of these neurotransmitters.

But the study, like most others, is inconclusive as to establishing yoga as therapy for anxiety disorders. The link between fewer episodes and yoga, as of this writing, is anecdotal. Rather than a therapy, yoga is effectively enhancing established treatments, such as drug and psychiatric therapies.

Yoga is being promoted as a stress management technique for those with anxiety disorders. The Mayo Clinic, in its book, “Mayo Clinic Guide to Alternative Medicine 2007” cites yoga as therapy for anxiety and stress, stating, “Its quiet, precise movements focus your mind”.

During an anxiety attack, the mind is in an “unreasonable” state, that is, the perceived threat or danger is very likely unreal. If yoga is meant to release the mind from subjective realities, then yoga may free the mind of distorted perceptions as well. Yoga may allow those suffering from anxiety disorders to focus their minds and silence the fear.