Yoga is a set of physical, mental and spiritual practices or disciplines that originated in ancient India.
Studies have shown that regularly practicing yoga can boost your mood and lower your levels of stress hormones. Yoga also increases your body’s production of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate emotions.
Yoga can be used as a standalone practice or as a complement to your mental health treatment plan.
1. Increased Flexibility and Strength
Yoga stretches and postures build flexibility, muscle tone, and balance. This is especially important for seniors who are at a greater risk of falls and injuries. It is also beneficial for people with lung conditions such as asthma.
Practicing yoga also helps with breathing and circulation. The controlled breathing techniques practiced in yoga can lower blood pressure and improve heart health. This is because the practice of yoga encourages a full breath and slows down your heart rate.
In one study, researchers found that women who participated in a group yoga class had less PTSD symptoms than those who went to a talk therapy session. It is believed that practicing yoga helped to retrain their brains to respond differently to stressors (Novotney, 2009).
In addition to improving balance and strength, many types of yoga help to relieve back pain and neck pain. It is recommended that you talk to your doctor before starting a yoga routine, especially if you are taking any medications or have any injuries.
2. Reduced Stress
The breathing and meditation that are a hallmark of yoga, along with the body’s natural movements, encourage a feeling of relaxation. The practice also teaches you to be mindful of the present moment and shifts your focus from the anxieties and stresses of daily life to the present moment, which decreases stress levels and improves mood.
Practicing yoga also stimulates the production of feel-good hormones and improves blood flow throughout the body, especially in areas that experience stiffness or soreness due to anxiety or stress. It has been found that yoga can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, even in those taking antidepressants or suffering from mental health conditions like schizophrenia (Grazioplene, 2012).
Studies have also shown that practicing yoga can improve lipid profiles in people with coronary heart disease and lower excessive blood sugar in diabetics. The stretching in yoga increases range of motion and relieves back pain, while the poses that require you to hold your own weight strengthen weak muscles.
3. Improved Sleep
A lack of sleep contributes to a wide range of health issues, including weight gain, stress and mood fluctuations. Fortunately, many people who struggle with insomnia are finding relief through a regular yoga practice. In a recent study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, researchers found that over 85% of participants reported that yoga improved their sleep quality.
In addition to calming the mind, yoga also lowers heart rate and blood pressure, which can help you fall asleep faster. Yoga also improves sleep by promoting the secretion of the sleep-regulating hormone, melatonin. It’s important to avoid strenuous exercise just before bedtime, but you can use gentle yoga poses or a relaxing breathing practice to quiet the mind and prepare for sleep. This is especially helpful for pregnant women, who often experience sleep disturbances due to anxiety and discomfort. Even children and the elderly report better sleep after practicing yoga regularly.
4. Increased Self-Awareness
Practicing yoga can help to cultivate the state of mindfulness (being aware of and present in the moment). Yoga teaches us to observe our thoughts and feelings without judgment or attachment. This allows you to be more self-aware and can help to create the space you need for healthy emotional regulation.
Studies have found that practicing yoga can be as effective at reducing depression and anxiety as talk therapy. This may be because yoga works to reset the brain back into a calm, collected state. It can also help with PTSD, because it helps to reduce the hyperactivity of the nervous system that causes symptoms in this disorder.
Yoga is a natural, all-natural way to achieve mental wellness, but it’s important that people who practice it understand that it can be used as an alternative or complementary treatment to help with their specific mental health issues. It is a wonderful option for anyone who wants to improve their quality of life, regardless of what kind of mental health struggles they are experiencing.