Practicing an ancient exercise may make you worry less

The benefits of yoga are endless. Whether it’s done in the morning, during lunch, or in the evening, the sometimes daunting stretches and body movements can bring benefits to all forms of life through practice.

The American Osteopathic Association says that the relaxation techniques in yoga can help chronic pain in areas like the lower back, arthritis, headaches, and carpal tunnel. It can improve flexibility, boost muscle strength and tone, and can even protect you from injury. Athletes often incorporate practices of yoga into their routines because it can loosen the body and even improve performance.

For workers, it’s been proven to even decrease workplace stress by improving mental health, which benefits both job satisfaction and productivity.

Yoga can even help people struggling to manage anxiety, according to a new study.

Researchers from NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine found that yoga benefitted generalized anxiety disorder far more than other methods on stress management, which researchers said could benefit some people. While yoga wasn’t as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy, the accessibility of yoga could pay off massively.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, had three groups with men and women broken into different treatment programs: cognitive behavioral therapy, Kundalini yoga, or stress management education.

“Generalized anxiety disorder is a very common condition, yet many are not willing or able to access evidence-based treatments,” said Naomi M. Simon, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, and the study’s lead author in a statement. “Our findings demonstrate that yoga, which is safe and widely available, can improve symptoms for some people with this disorder and could be a valuable tool in an overall treatment plan.”

The study was conducted through a few phases. For the group in cognitive behavioral therapy, the group focused on “psychoeducation, cognitive interventions, and muscle relaxation techniques.” Kundalini yoga is a popular form that focuses on posture and breathing. The exercises are meant to be relaxing and promote meditation and mindfulness. Stress-management focused on the physiological, psychological, and medical effects of stress. It also tried to instill life changes such as reducing alcohol and smoking, promote exercise and diet as a way to help anxiety.

The length of the study ran for six months. After three months, researchers reported that the cognitive-behavioral and yoga groups found their exercises far more effective than stress management. Fifty-four percent in the yoga group had improved symptoms compared to just 33% in the stress-education team.

By six months, the cognitive-behavioral group was far better than stress eduction, but yoga was found to be “no longer significantly better.”

Researchers determined that cognitive-behavioral therapy might have a long term benefit to helping anxiety, but yoga certainly has its benefits.

“Many people already seek complementary and alternative interventions, including yoga, to treat anxiety,” said Simon. “This study suggests that at least short-term there is significant value for people with generalized anxiety disorder to give yoga a try to see if it works for them. Yoga is well-tolerated, easily accessible, and has a number of health benefits.”

Simon said more research is needed to better understand who can benefit from yoga.

“We need more options to treat anxiety because different people will respond to different interventions, and having more options can help overcome barriers to care,” Simon said. “Having a range of effective treatments can increase the likelihood people with anxiety will be willing to engage in evidence-based care.”

An estimated 6.8 million Americans are affected by a generalized anxiety disorder, according to the study. Symptoms of generalized anxiety include persistent worrying, overthinking, perceiving situations as threatening, and more, according to The Mayo Clinic. It can cause fatigue, trouble sleeping, sweating, and other symptoms as well.