Yoga and Mental Health

How Yoga is Similar to Existing Mental Health Therapies

Today, a yoga studio is as common a town feature as a local Starbucks. Deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and body treatments are now part of mainstream culture and are here to stay.

So, don’t think just because they get lumped into a health and therapy category called alternative health practices that they are less important to your well being.

The ancient Eastern practice of yoga combines mindfulness training with exercise (hence the term, “mind-body”). For years, practitioners all over the world have reported receiving mental and physical health benefits from yoga. Only recently has yoga been subject to Western scientific evaluation, and so far, its effects are promising for a host of conditions from fibromyalgia to depression. Results of numerous studies found yoga offers some of the same therapeutic benefits, both physiological and psychological benefits, as other widely accepted mental health treatments. For example, regular yoga can regulate hormones in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (also known as the human stress response system) and enhance immune system functioning.

Yoga is actually similar to several existing gold standard treatment approaches and especially complements treatments used for depression and anxiety.



Benefits of Yoga on our Mental Health

Yoga’s positive benefits on mental health have made it an important practice tool of psychotherapy.

There is a growing body of research to back up yoga’s mental health benefits. Yoga increases body awareness, relieves stress, reduces muscle tension, strain and inflammation, sharpens attention and concentration, calms and centers the nervous system. 

It has been shown to enhance social well being through a sense of belonging to others and improve the symptoms of depressionattention deficit and hyperactivitysleep disorders. Also, yoga can improve symptoms of schizophrenia when it is done along side drug therapy.

Yoga’s benefits extend to adult caregivers who experience lower life satisfaction, depression, stress and high levels of biological markers for inflammation. One study found that practicing a 12-minute daily, 8  week program of yoga exercise resulted in reducing markers of inflammation,  in adults taking care of loved ones stricken with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Also, yoga has been shown to increase the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a chemical in the brain that helps to regulate nerve activity. This is especially relevant to people who have anxiety disorders in which GABA activity is low.

Yoga also improves the mood, behavior and mindfulness of high school students taking yoga classes in addition to PE (Physical Education) than students taking PE alone. It has been shown to improve workplace well being and resilience.




Yoga Helps Mitigate Cognitive Decline

Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that physical activity helps keep your mind sharp with age and this goes for activities such as yoga as well. Overall, inactivity is enemy number one if you seek to optimize your cognitive function.

According to The New York Times:

There also is growing evidence that combining physical activity with meditation might intensify the benefits of both pursuits. In an interesting study … people with depression who meditated before they went for a run showed greater improvements in their mood than people who did either of those activities alone.

But many people do not have the physical capacity or taste for running or other similarly vigorous activities. So for the new study … researchers … decided to test whether yoga, a relatively mild, meditative activity, could alter people’s brains and fortify their ability to think.

They began by recruiting 29 middle-aged and older adults … who … were anxious about the state of their memories and who, during evaluations … were found to have mild cognitive impairment, a mental condition that can be a precursor to eventual dementia.

The volunteers also underwent a sophisticated type of brain scan that tracks how different parts of the brain communicate with one another.”



Yoga for Mood

Depression or just a bad mood sticking with us for a days often involves a lack of motivation and interest in physical activity. When depressed, a person may wait to participate in activities they once enjoyed until their depressed mood remits. Behavioural Activation (BA) is a common, longstanding evidence-based depression treatment.

As an, “act before you feel” approach, its cycle aim is to establish greater levels of activity in patients despite the mood they experience. By consciously deciding to resume normal levels of activity — from completion of daily tasks to exercising — regardless of how we feel, our behaviours provide powerful feedback to the brain that we are not prisoners to our thoughts and emotions. In other words:  positive emotions can be produced by our actions.






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