Yoga found to boost feel-good brain chemical

While the practice of yoga goes back donkey’s years, it has in more recent times enjoyed quite an upsurge in popularity. I have dabbled in yoga myself, and will often recommend it to individuals who are looking for a generally safe way of enhancing physical and mental wellbeing either as part of a class, or in the comfort of one’s own home.

For me, the results people usually report as a result of regular yoga practice speak for themselves: greater flexibility and strength, improved energy levels and sleep and a calmer more contented mind are not uncommon. However, even though the benefits of yoga are often self-evident, I was nonetheless interested recently to learn of a study in which yoga was subjected to formal study.

This American study, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, took 19 individuals, and had them partake in either a 1-hour yoga (asana yoga which involved postures and conscious breathing) session or 1-hour reading session. All subjects were then assessed for brain levels of GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) both before and after the session.

GABA is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that has a generally calming, anti-anxiety effect within the brain.

Individuals who participated in the yoga session saw GABA levels increase by 27 per cent on average. In comparison, those who read saw no change in the levels of this brain chemical.

In this study, the relationship between GABA levels and mood was not assessed. On one level, it would have been nice to see if the heightened GABA induced by yoga translated in into perceived benefits with regard to mental state. On the other hand, mood can be somewhat subjective and difficult to quantify and qualify accurately.

Because of this, I like this study partly because of its attempt to assess yoga with a quite objective measurement. What this study does, to my mind, is help explain objectively some of the subjective benefits that are so-often had by those who practice yoga regularly.

I have to admit, I’ve fallen out of the habit of my own yoga practice since sustaining a shoulder injury (due to faulty front crawl technique!) some months ago. Now my shoulder is better (osteopathy did the trick here), I’m wondering whether this latest study will provide the gentle nudge I need to get me back on the mat.


Streeter CC, et al. Yoga Asana Sessions Increase Brain GABA Levels: A Pilot Study. J Alter Complement Med, 2007;13(4):419-26

4 Responses to Yoga found to boost feel-good brain chemical

  1. Audrey 27 June 2007 at 5:20 pm #

    This study confirms the feel-good factor after a yoga session. Also I have discovered it is a myth that your muscles degenerate quickly after a spell of bed rest. I was unable to do yoga for 5 months and then went to a strong Iyengar method yoga class and did everything including abdominal exercises such as “the boat with and without oars”, even though I’d had 7-hour abdominal surgery.

    I also find that yoga practice teaches you to follow instruction, so one’s recovery is speeded up.

    Sadly, the chemotherapy has reduced my red blood cells and I am feeling very weak at the moment, but I expect after a transfusion my recovery will be complete.

  2. wendy woo 29 June 2007 at 8:36 am #

    Isn’t it lovely when modern day science with all its investigations and costly experiments catches up with good old common sense. From my experience of being a yoga teacher I would say that the majority of people who practices yoga would pay testimony to the fact that it makes one feel better!

  3. Jemmah 22 December 2009 at 5:19 pm #

    I practice Yoga at home mainly for the purpose of having a relax mind and body. Stress is really high on our workplace and yoga helps me relax.

  4. Kember 3 February 2010 at 9:04 pm #

    it is easy to learn Yoga although it seems difficult at first try. I practice Yoga mainly for relaxation and for improving my blood circulation.

Leave a Reply