The ancient practice of yoga, founded in Eastern cultures, was later adopted by Western cultures and became a way to connect the mind and body through breathing and movement. In recent years, medical practitioners and researchers have begun studying the mental health benefits of yoga with some promising findings.
Manages stress response
Research indicates that yoga modulates the body’s stress response by keeping cortisol levels low and managing the “fight or flight” reaction to stress. When your nervous system is calm, you experience lower levels of anxiety. The mental health benefits of yoga are experienced when this practice is part of a regular daily routine to continually create space for stress reduction.
Reduces symptoms of depression
Historically, yoga has been noted for providing symptom management of anxiety and depression. Yoga increases serotonin, a feel-good hormone in our brain that is said to be directly linked to our ability to experience happiness. Those who fight depression may have a naturally lower level of this hormone, so a mental health benefit of yoga is an increase in the ability to feel happier.
Improves the mind body connection
Yoga focuses on providing an integrated experience between the mind and body. Often, in our busy lives, these interwoven parts are disconnected. Yoga provides a pathway to experience the impact of one on the other. As stress is reduced through yoga, the impact is felt on the mind and body. When the body is healthy, the mind is often healthier, and vice versa. The physical and mental health benefits of yoga are often inseparable.
As instructors lead participants through a class, it encourages listening and application of skills. Learning yoga poses and translating what you’re hearing into what you’re doing, requires mental acuity, concentration, and practice. As you strengthen your ability to apply what you hear and integrate head knowledge into body action, you improve the flexibility and responsiveness of your brain, which is one of the mental health benefits of yoga.
Reduction of chronic pain
Many people report the benefits from yoga on managing chronic pain. Depression and chronic pain are regularly linked together. With careful attention to movement patterns that improve rather than aggravate symptoms, yoga can improve the constant pain many face on a daily basis. When pain is alleviated, emotional health often improves. A study this year reported that mindfulness meditation and yoga significantly improved patients’ perception of pain, depression, and disability.
Promotes better sleep
Poor sleep can also be a contributor to depression. While it can sometimes be a “chicken and egg” scenario, not knowing which comes first, with yoga’s impact on improving depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and stress, it’s likely that better sleep will follow. With good sleep comes mood improvement and better mood management. Yoga also impacts melatonin, which is directly responsible for many of the sleep problems people face.
The mental health benefits of yoga are interconnected to physical benefits of yoga. Incorporating yoga into your exercise rotation will make a positive impact on your body and mind.