Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: A pilot study

Division of Psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02118, USA.
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Impact Factor: 1.59). 06/2007; 13(4):419-26. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2007.6338
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The aim of this study was to compare changes in brain gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels associated with an acute yoga session versus a reading session. It was hypothesized that an individual yoga session would be associated with an increase in brain GABA levels.
This is a parallel-groups design.
Screenings, scan acquisitions, and interventions took place at medical school-affiliated centers.
The sample comprised 8 yoga practitioners and 11 comparison subjects.
Yoga practitioners completed a 60-minute yoga session and comparison subjects completed a 60-minute reading session.
GABA-to-creatine ratios were measured in a 2-cm axial slab using magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging immediately prior to and immediately after interventions.
There was a 27% increase in GABA levels in the yoga practitioner group after the yoga session (0.20 mmol/kg) but no change in the comparison subject group after the reading session ( -0.001 mmol/kg) (t = -2.99, df = 7.87, p = 0.018).
These findings demonstrate that in experienced yoga practitioners, brain GABA levels increase after a session of yoga. This suggests that the practice of yoga should be explored as a treatment for disorders with low GABA levels such as depression and anxiety disorders. Future studies should compare yoga to other forms of exercise to help determine whether yoga or exercise alone can alter GABA levels.

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Available from: Domenic A Ciraulo, Sep 27, 2015
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    • "In contrast, oral administration of GABA increases alpha waves and decreases beta waves, suggesting that GABA induces relaxation and reduces anxiety (Abdou et al., 2006). After a single yoga asana session, which consists of postures, pranayama (a yogic breathing exercise), meditation, and chanting, subjects experienced a 27% increase in GABA levels (Streeter et al., 2007). However, GABAergic neuronal activity throughout the brain is complex and may also be involved in vagal inhibition. "
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    • "A final disadvantage is that at the present moment, fMRI cannot be used to evaluate neurotransmitter systems which might ultimately be of interest in the study of spiritual practices. However, one study did utilize magnetic resonance spectroscopy to find an increase in gamma amino butyric acid during yoga training (Streeter et al., 2007). "
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    • "In this study, we have used a generic yoga module developed from traditional texts and validated by the yoga experts as a treatment for depression (Naveen et al., in this issue). Yoga has been shown to have a significant effect on brain neurotransmitters such as gamma-Aminobutyric acid, indicating its potential usefulness in treating depression and anxiety disorders.[21] Further, yoga therapy can improve cognitive functions, which is one of the indicators of neuroplasticity.[2022] "
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