A few weeks ago I was perusing Spa magazine. I really shouldn’t read this magazine because all it does is make me pine away for a week of massages, herbal wraps, yoga, and a whole host of other yummy organic treatments at a cushy spa retreat (preferably somewhere exotic). This is a fantasy of mine, and reading Spa magazine helps me visualize the trip and encourages me to save my money for a week of yogalicious, spa-filled bliss.

As I was flipping through the pages recently I saw a little snippet about the Joy of Yoga by Sharon Liao. The short article cited research done recently at Boston University’s School of Medicine. They found that people who practiced yoga for 60 minutes a day for more than three times a week had higher levels of GABA than those who did a walking workout for the same period of time. In case you are not familiar with GABA, it is the equivalent of a natural antidepressant in that it is a brain chemical that boosts our moods. The yoga participants in the study also felt more cheerful and less anxious.

GABA level in the human brain.

I always feel a little high after I practice yoga, and now it is really cool to know that one of the reasons I feel so damn good is all the GABA flowing out of my brain and boosting my spirits.

To quote one of my yoga students, “GABA, GABA, DOO!”

I know not everyone can dedicate three hour-long yoga sessions each week to get those elevated GABA levels, but next time you are feeling a little stressed or anxious, take a few minutes and do a few downward dogs or a simple breathing exercise. The deep breathing and poses used in yoga can calm your nervous system and make you feel more relaxed, even if you only practice for a few minutes.

Maria Santoferraro, RYT, is a yoga-teacher and writer living on the beautiful shores of Lake Erie, Ohio. Go from stressed out to blissed out on her blog The Daily Downward Dog, Twitter, and Facebook.