For Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Should You Try Kundalini Yoga?

Kundalini yoga can help adults reduce anxiety, a new study reports.

Posted Aug 12, 2020

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The efficacy of Kundalini yoga vs. cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) was recently compared in a three-arm randomized clinical trial that included a "stress education" control group. These findings (Simon et al., 2020) were published on August 12 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

According to the authors of this New York University-led clinical trial, the objective of the study was "to assess whether yoga (Kundalini yoga) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for GAD are each more effective than a control condition (stress education) and whether yoga is noninferior to CBT for the treatment of GAD." The seven co-authors of this study are affiliated with NYU, Boston University, Southern Methodist University, Georgetown University Medical Center, and Harvard Medical School.

In a 2015 paper, "Yoga for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Design of a Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial," senior author Naomi Simon of NYU and co-authors describe the protocol for this study:

"This randomized controlled trial will compare [Kundalini] yoga (N = 95) to both CBT for GAD (= 95) and stress education (N = 40), a commonly used control condition. All three treatments will be administered by two instructors in a group format over 12 weekly sessions with four to six patients per group." 

It's been over five years since the inception of this "Efficacy of Yoga vs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs. Stress Education for the Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder" clinical trial and the results are in: Simon et al. (2020) found that although Kundalini yoga appears to be an effective treatment for GAD, in general, cognitive behavioral therapy seems more efficacious.

"In this trial, Kundalini yoga was efficacious for GAD, but the results support CBT remaining first-line treatment." Simon and co-authors conclude.

Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock
Source: Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock

These findings on the anxiety-reducing benefits of Kundalini yoga are in line with another recent study (Gabriel et al., 2018) which found that an 8-week Kundalini yoga intervention "resulted in lower levels of anxiety relative to the treatment-as-usual condition." As the authors of this 2018 study explain: "Kundalini yoga may show promise as a treatment for GAD, and this treatment might convey its effect on symptom severity by reducing somatic symptoms."

Taken together, 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.

The current study on Kundalini yoga vs. CBT has both strengths and limitations. The researchers encourage future studies to investigate how individual characteristics might make some people more responsive to yoga or CBT depending on their overarching attitudes about mental health treatments and integrative medicine. "Future research is needed to better understand individual differences in the heterogeneity of response to yoga and CBT," the authors write.

Future studies might also examine how interventions such as the Kripalu Center's five-day RISE (resilience, integration, self-awareness, engagement) program compares to Kundalini yoga outcomes related to GAD. In closing, Simon et al. hope that future studies will help "to inform how yoga might be integrated into a stepped-care personalized approach to anxiety disorders."


Naomi M. Simon, Stefan G. Hofmann, David Rosenfield, Susanne S. Hoeppner, Elizabeth A. Hoge, Eric Bui, Sat Bir S. Khalsa. "Efficacy of Yoga vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs Stress Education for the Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial." JAMA Psychiatry (First published online: August 12, 2020) DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.2496

Stefan G. Hofmann, Joshua Curtiss, Sat Bir S. Khalsa, Elizabeth A. Hoge, David Rosenfield, Eric Bui, Aparna Keshaviah, and Naomi M. Simon. "Yoga for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Design of a Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial." Contemporary Clinical Trials (First published online: August 06, 2015) DOI: 10.1016/j.cct.2015.08.003