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Study on the power of yoga for mental health sparks new calls for NHS to ‘clinically prescribe’ it

Practising yoga regularly can be almost as effective in treating anxiety as seeing a talking therapist, new US research has found.

The study, carried out by New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, asked 226 people who have generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) to try three different treatments; stress management education, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and Kundalini yoga to monitor their effect on the mental health condition.

Scientists at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine found people with anxiety who practised Kundalini yoga once a week for 12 weeks saw a 54% improvement in symptoms (Image: Pixabay/lograstudio)

The study was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry and found that 71 per cent of patients using CBT recorded an improvement, compared to 54 per cent practising yoga and 33 per cent in the stress education group.

Around five per cent of people in Britain suffer from GAD, reports The Times. While GPs can socially prescribe yoga, it is not currently clinically prescribed by the NHS.

The research found that yoga improved anxiety more than stress education, with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) the most effective non-medical treatment (Image: pixabay/sofiezborilova)

Researchers reported that those in the group who tried Kundalini yoga, which focuses on meditation, breathing techniques and strengthening postures, achieved significant improvements in their anxiety levels, second only to those who practised CBT with a talking therapist.

Heather Mason, founder of The Minded Institute, is among those calling for the NHS to clinically prescribe yoga

After the patients were re-examined after six months, those in the CBT group were found to have a better long-term response than the yoga and stress education groups.

CBT is currently the first pathway of treatment for anxiety on the NHS, before medicine – including anti-depressants and sedatives – is prescribed.

The results of the 12-week study, which asked participants to have two-hour sessions a week with 20 minutes ‘homework’ daily, have seen UK yoga experts call on the NHS to start clinically prescribing it to anxiety patients.

Founder of yoga therapy practice, The Minded Institute, Heather Mason, said: “It is very encouraging to see the results of this rigorous study.

“Given how pervasive anxiety disorders are, matched with the multitude of unique needs and dispositions of patients, it is imperative health care systems offer a variety of treatments.

“As findings reported yoga was on par with CBT, the primary psychological intervention offered by the NHS for anxiety…I believe it is time the NHS seriously considers yoga on prescription for anxiety disorders.”

The College of Medicine’s Patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, has previously said yoga is an effective way of saving ‘precious and expensive’ NHS resources.

New York University's Grossman School of Medicine