Can Kundalini Yoga Help with Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

A recent study examined the use of Kundalini yoga to treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Here are the results…

You may feel better after your yoga practice, but is it all in your head, or does yoga actually help reduce anxiety? A 2020 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) examined this question and found some interesting results.

The randomized clinical trial studied the effectiveness of Kundalini yoga compared to traditional cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is a condition where people feel extremely anxious about various aspects of life, and find it hard to control their anxiety, often obsessing over their negative thoughts to the point where it may be hard to carry out their daily activities. GAD can also lead to difficulty sleeping, increased fatigue, and chronic muscle tension and related pain conditions. According to this article, GAD affects approximately 3% of people in the U.S, and is more common among women.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an accepted treatment for GAD, but there are a number of reasons why people may not seek treatment due to cost, social stigma, or other factors (this is especially an issue among the African American community). Yoga, on the other hand, is easily accessible and may be done in the privacy of home, making it an attractive option for many. But does it work?

This study took a look at the potential benefits of yoga for treatment of GAD and how it compares to CBT:

The study was a randomized, controlled, single-blind clinical trial. The 230 participants—adults 18 years or older who had a primary diagnosis of GAD—were assigned to one of three interventions for 12 weeks. Each intervention involved twelve 2-hour small group sessions along with 20 minutes of daily homework. The interventions were Kundalini yoga, CBT, and a stress control education intervention that involved lectures on the effects of stress and lifestyle behaviors and the importance of exercise and diet. Kundalini yoga included physical postures, breathing techniques, relaxation exercises, and meditation practices.

At the end of the 12 weeks and again 6 months later, participants were evaluated to see whether they had responded to treatment, which was defined as a Clinical Global Impression-Improvement Scale score of much or very much improved. At 12 weeks, 54 percent of Kundalini yoga participants and 71 percent of CBT participants had responded to treatment, but only 33 percent of stress education participants had; response rates were significantly higher in the Kundalini yoga and CBT groups than in the stress education group. At the 6-month follow-up, 63 percent of the Kundalini yoga group, 77 percent of the CBT group, and 48 percent of the stress education group showed a response… An additional analysis did not find Kundalini yoga to be as effective as CBT at 12 weeks or the 6-month follow-up.

In conclusion, as described in this article:

…These findings add to a growing body of evidence (Hoge et al., 2013) suggesting that mindfulness-based interventions that incorporate some type of yoga may be efficacious in helping people with GAD lower their anxiety. Even though Kundalini yoga can lower anxiety, it’s important to reiterate that cognitive-behavioral therapy “remains a first-line treatment for generalized anxiety disorder,” according to the authors.

However, there is a caveat. Given the reluctance of some people to seek conventional treatment, this article states that

…given the increasing costs of health care and barriers to accessing trained mental health professionals, yoga may play a role in GAD management as a more easily accessible intervention. Focusing future research on identifying individual characteristics that make a person more likely to respond to yoga versus CBT could help inform how yoga might be integrated into a stepped-care personalized approach to anxiety disorders.

While further research is needed, existing studies suggest that yoga may have a positive impact on those suffering from GAD, and may be a good supplement to conventional treatment, as well as a helpful option for those without access to other forms of therapy.


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