Many massage therapists, and their clients, practice yoga as a form of self-care. New research shows doing so could boost mood and lower anxiety levels.

Researchers from Boston University Medical Center set out to see if there is a connection between yoga and mood. They found that yoga may be superior to other forms of exercise in its positive effect on mood and anxiety.

The findings, which currently appear on-line in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, is the first to demonstrate an association between yoga postures, increased GABA levels and decreased anxiety, according to a university press release.

The researchers set out to contrast the brain gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels of yoga subjects with those of participants who spent time walking. Low GABA levels are associated with depression and other widespread anxiety disorders.

The researchers followed two randomized groups of healthy individuals over a 12-week-long period. One group practiced yoga three times a week for one hour, while the remaining subjects walked for the same period of time. Using magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging, the participants’ brains were scanned before the study began. At week 12, the researchers compared the GABA levels of both groups before and after their final 60-minute session.

Each subject was also asked to assess his or her psychological state at several points throughout the study, and those who practiced yoga reported a more significant decrease in anxiety and greater improvements in mood than those who walked. “Over time, positive changes in these reports were associated with climbing GABA levels,” said lead author Chris Streeter, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at the university.

According to Streeter, this research warrants further study of the relationship between yoga and mood, and suggests that the practice of yoga be considered as a potential therapy for certain mental disorders.

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