How Yoga Meditation Helps Anxiety by David Webster and Aubree Kozie

America is an unusually anxious nation. Statistics from the World Health Organization show that a third of Americans will suffer from anxiety at some point in their lives and one in 19 people between the ages of 36-50 receive a prescription for benzodiazepines, sedatives which are commonly prescribed to alleviate symptoms of the condition. 

But this highly addictive medication does nothing to treat the root cause of the condition or to heal the nervous system or promote stress resilience. Additionally, this medication holds the risk for side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, memory loss, nightmares, and overdose in cases of abuse. For this reason, many physicians recommend yoga meditation as long term complementary and alternative strategies to promote stress resilience and heal the nervous system to reduce symptoms more permanently. 

“There’s evidence to show that yoga [meditation] can work, and instead of just treating the symptoms like meds do, it actually helps you learn to cope with your worries. Given the choice, most of my patients would rather overcome their problems than put a Band-Aid on them.” 

– Adam Splaver, MD, voluntary assistant clinical professor of medicine at Nova Southeastern University

Relaxation Research

Available empirical research on the results of a number of yoga meditation practices indicate they hold powerful potential as self-soothing techniques that reduce anxiety. Yoga calls the anxious individual out of future-tense worries and into the moment, the place where yoga is happening. Repeated practice helps to re-habituate the anxious, overactive nervous system to be more resilient and less physically aroused. This is why we see yoga meditation reducing heart rate variability, a physiological indicator of the body’s ability to cope with stress. 

Hundreds of studies show that meditation (including present moment, loving-kindness, and transcendental) reduces symptoms of anxiety. Researchers believe that this is because meditation teaches and causes one to practice the skills needed to counteract natural anxious tendencies and behaviors including: being present and being mindful of worried thoughts when they arise so that you can actively work to change them. 

Not only does yoga meditation have no side effects, significantly lower risk of injury or physical harm, but it also helps to work on the root cause of anxiety and to treat it holistically.

Holistic Healing

Research shows that subjective changes in emotion such as reductions in anxiety during meditation modify physical processes in the brain. MRI scans show activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex—the area of the brain that can tamp down feelings of worry– during meditation. When anxiety decreased (by up to almost 40 percent) brain activity also increased in the anterior cingulate cortex, an area that governs thinking and emotion, indicating that rational thought was working to displace worry. This process simply boils down to a practice of controlling your reactions, which in turn gives one more skill at managing one’s reactions and avoiding anxious arousal both mentally and physically. 

Still other research indicates that yoga meditation may affect brain chemistry in a similar but more targeted fashion than anti-anxiety benzodiazepines. Yoga increases levels of the calming neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which helps to improve mood and relieve anxiety. These practices can thus eventually help to replace medication in some cases. 

It is fascinating that this ancient practice goes above and beyond the abilities of modern medicine in a safer and more holistic way. This is no doubt why doctors increasingly refer patients experiencing anxiety to take up yoga and meditation. 


Harvard Health Publishing. (2020). Yoga for anxiety and depression. Harvard Medical School.,to%20modulate%20stress%20response%20systems.

Graves, G. (2017). How Yoga Calms Anxiety Holistically. Yoga Journal.

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