Yoga is the practice of gentle moving and combines three elements: asanas (the physical poses and dimensions), controlled breathing and a short period of deep relaxation and meditation. Growing research supports yoga can help decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety and increase overall mental health. Using these elements, our bodies form a relaxed state and increase the endorphins that flow in our brains.
Ashley Turner, licensed psychotherapist and yogi, claims “Yoga is a psychology — the whole practice helps us work with the nature of the mind, the nature of being a human, how emotions live in our bodies, how they affect our behavior and our minds,” says Turner, who reveals that yoga helped her recognize and cope with her own low self-esteem. “This course is reclaiming the deeper roots of the practice, not just asana — the mental and emotional benefits.”
Here are 5 ways yoga benefits your mental health:
- It helps build self-confidence
Unmanaged and chronic stress have a profound effect on self-confidence. Chronic stress causes mood and appetite changes. Over time, these symptoms can lead to overeating and overall discomfort in our body’s appearance. Yoga promotes the strength and flexibility in our bodies. Long-term yoga practice can increase these factors and therefore increase self-esteem. Nothing like feeling strong and happier about ourselves when we look and feel good!
In a four-year qualitative study conducted by Marc B. Schure,John Christopher, and Suzanne Christopher, students indicated that their response to fear, anxieties, doubts and other negative emotions became simpler to let go of. Many stated their sense of awareness increased, allowing more positive feelings to enter their lives. These same participants experienced greater empathy towards others.
- Helps tame our stress response
In 2008, researchers at the University of Utah presented results from a study with yoga and pain. Their results noted “that people who have a poorly regulated response to stress are also more sensitive to pain. Their subjects were 12 experienced yoga practitioners, 14 people with fibromyalgia (a condition many researchers consider a stress-related illness that is characterized by hypersensitivity to pain), and 16 healthy volunteers.” Our stress and pain tolerance are closely related.
- Improves mood
Research suggests yoga improves our mood. According to a Harvard Health study, “at the end of three months, women in the yoga group reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being. Depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. Initial complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality also resolved much more often in the yoga group than in the control group.” If you’ve ever tried your hand at yoga, you’ve probably felt a similar sense of increased overall well-being – it works.
Yoga is a gentle art and should be practiced with care and gratitude towards your body. The effects yoga has on mental health are growing. Experience for yourself and notice the profound effects yoga has on overall mind, body and soul.
Brown RP, et al. “Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Part II — Clinical Applications and Guidelines,” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Aug. 2005): Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 711–17.