There’s a slight misconception floating around out there that yoga is strictly a physical exercise — all about poses with funny names like downward dog and sleeping willow. We understand why: everything you probably see on the internet or hear about from wellness fanatics typically highlights the raw challenge of holding a pose for any significant amount of time. Muscles burning, bones aching, brows sweating; that kind of thing.
No surprise there. People are loving the physical health benefits. Studies show that the practice of connecting your breath to your body as you stretch can improve strength and flexibility while reducing heart rate, blood pressure, and back pain.
But there’s more to it than that.
With a wide range of disciplinary and contemplative practices, there’s no shortage of yoga’s mental health benefits.
Yoga isn’t as physically demanding as you might think. This means it’s great for stress relief, lowering stress hormones while boosting your endorphins. Several recent studies suggest that the steady production and release of these chemicals help strengthen social attachments, relieve anxiety, reduce depression, and improve sleep patterns.
Recognize the connection?
You see, your mind and body are inextricably linked. Everything you experience and feel — strong emotions and deeply ingrained beliefs — has an impact on your body. In turn, your physical body can affect your mental state.
This brings us to why we’re here…
How does yoga help mental health?
There’s so much more to yoga than stretches and poses. But when people in the West hear the word yoga, that’s typically what they think about. It’s known as Asana, the primary focus of most yoga classes — but child’s pose, mountain pose, and warrior pose are only one aspect of a complex system that includes exercises that feed the brain:
- Breathing practices
- Meditation techniques
- Karma yoga
- Visualization exercises
- Study of yoga philosophy
The result is a healthier body and mind. Let’s break down all the mental health benefits of yoga.
The world is a hectic place. It’s like something in the air expects us to be plugged in and tuned up all day, every day. And that has us all feeling a little overwhelmed. According to The American Psychological Association, 84% of American adults are feeling the impact of prolonged stress.
So, when folks start looking for ways to relieve that tension and take some proverbial weight off their shoulders, they often turn to exercise. They might take up running or weightlifting. Some even try swimming or Bootcamp classes. Others try yoga.
And good for them. One study showed that 12 sessions of regular yoga exercise significantly reduced stress, anxiety, and depression in women. And that’s just practicing new poses and stretches.
Quality of sleep is measured by two critical factors: a person’s ability to fall asleep and then stay asleep. Suppose you live with insomnia or any other sleeping disorder. In that case, you probably find it difficult to drift into a deep slumber and stay there until your alarm goes off. This causes elevated levels of fatigue and makes it difficult to function throughout the day.
We have some good news: Regular exercise, of any kind, has been shown to improve both how quickly and deeply people sleep. And yoga is no exception.
So how does this work, exactly?
- Physical activity requires you to spend energy. It increases your core body temperature, signaling your body it’s time to be awake. After about 30 to 90 minutes (about one and a half hours), your body temperature drops, facilitating sleep. In other words, it makes you tired and reduces the time it takes to fall asleep after you’ve turned the lights off.
- Yoga also helps the mind and body slip into a deep-sleep phase. This improves your sleep quality while boosting your immune system, cardiovascular health, and muscle recovery.
Reduced Depressive Symptoms
We live in a time of 24-hour news cycles, the dominance of social media, political dustups, and social turmoil. So it’s no wonder that Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is considered one of the world’s most common mental health disorders.
It’s a serious medical condition that can affect mood and behavior as well as various physical functions, such as appetite and sleep. Talk therapy and medication are common treatments, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution here. That’s why a considerable number of people turn to exercise to help manage their mental state.
One study conducted in 2017, concluded that yoga can now be considered an effective alternative treatment for MDD, significantly reducing depressive symptoms in the participants.
The best yoga exercises for mental health aren’t always physical. Meaning they don’t require high-intensity and physical stress. And some, like yoga Nidra, a body scan/guided meditation, have been shown to reduce common symptoms of anxiety.
What is anxiety?
It’s that feeling of persistent worry over things that are generally out of your control. Nervousness, panic, fear — they’re all common symptoms. And sometimes, they make it difficult to get from point A to point B without a panic attack.
Other studies suggest that yoga Asana may be effective as an alternative treatment for anxiety disorders. As you can see, there’s a lot of information out there — and there’s still a significant amount of research to be done. Still, based on what the experts have found, it’s safe to say that yoga is — at the very least — an effective secondary form of treatment.
Experience the mental health benefits of yoga
So, is yoga good for mental health? Absolutely. But the best way to know for sure is to experience it for yourself.
As with all types of exercise, physical and mental health go hand in hand. But it’s not enough to simply go through the motions, stretching and posing with little effort. To truly benefit from yoga, you need to practice with intention.
Focus, connect to your breath and let your intuition guide you. Do that, and you’ll find the mental health benefits of yoga aren’t far behind.
Are you ready to take that first step on your journey towards physical and psychological well-being?