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Does Yoga Actually Reduce Stress? 

woman doing yoga
(Image: Getty Images)

These are undeniably stressful times. Managing that stress is a crucial part of how we will all get through this. We often hear about yoga and meditation as great ways to reduce stress, but do these eastern practices really work or is it just a hippie-urban legend? Does yoga actually reduce stress? 

Ancient traditions that still get used daily are certainly worth looking into, right? Nearly 20 million Americans practice yoga, but is it helping lower stress? A recent study dug into this topic to see if yoga can actually help combat general anxiety disorder. 

For this study 226 men and women diagnosed with general anxiety disorder were randomly put into 3 groups:

  • Group 1 was given Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT, structured talk sessions between an expert and an individual. 
  • Group 2 was given Kundalini Yoga, involving movement, breathing, and meditation exercises. 
  • Group 3 was given Stress Management Education, you know informative talks on how to handle stress, healthy diet suggestions, encouraging proper sleep, and other self-care options. 

Three months later they checked in on these individuals and 54% of the yoga group said they had “meaningfully improved symptoms”. Only 33% of the stress management education group said they felt less anxious. Notably, a whopping 71% of the CBT - talk therapy folks said they felt less anxious and stressed. While talking to a professional and having regular sessions is considered the best defense against growing anxiety, the reality is not everyone has access to health care and a lot of therapists currently have waiting lists for new patients. Yoga, however, is free and with no waiting list! 

The research did go on to say that after a six-month check in these patients did not have any further improvements based on yoga alone. The most suggested method remains CBT, but keep in mind sometimes when stressed in the moment, you may not be able to access your therapist. Your yoga mat can fit nearly anywhere and could be a worthy tool to use on days when anxiety sets in. Like many other things in life this is not a one or the other option, but a suggestion that while CBT is the most recommended - in a pinch or as a part of weekly planning - meditative yoga also has been observed to lower symptoms of general anxiety. 

This research further highlights that yoga and meditation can be considered as great tools in our own personal mental health tool kits. There are many types of yoga out there as well. For anyone who's interested in trying out this ancient practice, there's something for nearly anyone. The options truly are quite flexible.