5 Science-Backed Ways Yoga Can Benefit Your Mental Health

( - If you’re a seasoned yogi, you likely know that doing yoga does more than make your butt look good. It makes you feel good, mentally, too. But when people talk about yoga, they often refer to the physiological benefits of the practice, such as increased flexibility and stronger muscles. And while physical health is a great reason to pick it up or keep going, everyone’s mental health needs a little loving as well.

There are plenty of mental, psychological and cognitive benefits of yoga, with several studies showing the promising effectiveness of yoga for brain and mental health.

Here are five of the biggest mental benefits of practicing yoga:

1. Yoga can effectively treat stress-related psychological conditions.

Yoga involves concentration on the breath and body, which can take away attention on tension and stress, resulting in a soothed state of being. A study led by researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), New York Medical College (NYMC), and the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons (CCPS) concluded that yoga may be effective in treating patients with stress-related psychological and medical conditions.

The study’s lead author, Chris Streeter, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at BUSM and Boston Medical Center said: “Western and Eastern medicine complement one another. Yoga is known to improve stress-related nervous system imbalances.”

And Dr. Kate Sparks, Chartered Psychologist said: “Yoga can also help to increase bodily awareness and thereby help an individual to learn to recognise when they are feeling stressed or holding themselves in a state of tension (not helping their high blood pressure or heart condition!) and using some of the breathing techniques taught in yoga (pranayama) can help themselves to reduce this tension and relax.”

2. Yoga can improve mood and functioning.

While there are still a lot of questions regarding how exactly yoga can improve mood, preliminary evidence shows that it may be similar to exercise and relaxation techniques.

A German study published in 2005 found that, when 24 “emotionally distressed” women took two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months, they reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue and well-being. In fact, depression scores increased by 50 percent, anxiety scores by 30 percent, and overall well-being scores by 65 percent.

Other controlled trials of yoga practice suggest a correlation between the practice and improvements in mood and quality of life for various circumstances, including the elderly, people caring for patients with dementia, breast cancer survivors, and patients with epilepsy.

3. Yoga can improve memory and concentration.

Ever feel like you can’t complete a task at work or in your day-to-day life without a multitude of distractions taking hold? A lack of concentration is a big problem in today’s society thanks to many factors, including the long list of technological advances at our fingertips. But if you’re looking for a way to effectively improve both your concentration and memory, then you can turn to yoga, which has been proven effective at addressing both issues.

A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health involving 30 female students at Illinois University’s Exercise Psychology Laboratory, discovered that just one session of Hatha yoga greatly improved a person’s speed and accuracy when tested on their working memory and concentration.

Lead author of the study, Neha Gothe, professor of kinesiology, health and sport studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, said: “It appears that following yoga practice, the participants were better able to focus their mental resources, process information quickly, more accurately and also learn, hold and update pieces of information more effectively than after performing an aerobic exercise bout.

“The breathing and meditative exercises aim at calming the mind and body and keeping distracting thoughts away while you focus on your body, posture or breath.

“Maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities.”

4. Yoga can hinder the onset of mental health conditions in adolescence.

A variety of mental health problems can develop during adolescence, and it is a known fact that there are many cases of pyschological disorders diagnosed in teenagers. This is why it is so important that emphasis is put on finding ways to prevent the onset of such conditions.

According to a study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, in which some of the subjects enrolled in PE classes involving Kripalu Yoga, which incorporates physical postures, breathing, relaxation and meditation, the practice helped students’ moods improve, levels of anxiety and tension decrease, control their anger, improve their resilience and enhance mindfulness.

5. Yoga can decrease the effects of traumatic experiences.

Trauma exposure is everywhere in our society. In fact, over half the general population has reported having exposure to at least one traumatic experience in their lifetime. And of those, 5 percent of men and 10.4 percent of women have developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Individuals who suffer from this disorder have a hard time calming down or self-regulating.

A pilot study conducted at the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Mass., found that women with PTSD who took part in eight sessions of a 75-minute Hatha yoga class experienced significantly reduced PTSD symptoms as opposed to those taking part in a dialectical behavior therapy group.

“When people experience trauma, they may experience not only a sense of emotional disregulation, but also a feeling of being physically immobilized,” explained Ritu Sharma, PhD, project coordinator of the center’s yoga program. “Body-oriented techniques such as yoga help them increase awareness of sensations in the body, stay more focused on the present moment and hopefully empower them to take effective actions.”

If you have yet to try yoga, make the plunge this 2017! It will help more than just your body. Yoga nurtures and heals your mind as well.

Written by Alexa Erickson
Inspired by balance, Alexa finds that her true inner peace comes from executing a well-rounded lifestyle. An avid yogi, hiker, beach bum, music and art enthusiast, salad aficionado, adventure seeker, animal lover, and professional writer, she is an active individual who loves to express herself through the power of words. See more articles by this author
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