Yoga for mental health

Yoga is a form of exercise that benefits not just physical health but the mind and mental health as well. In this article, we discuss five solid benefits of yoga to mental health.

Man practising yoga for mindfulness

According to Forbes, yoga is fast spreading in the United States, such that by 2016, about 37 million people were reportedly practicing yoga. The report also showed that between 2012 and 2016, the number of Americans doing yoga doubled, growing by almost 50%.

Since yoga emphasizes meditation and deep breathing, which can calm the mind and increase concentration, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it can significantly benefit mental health. 

In this article, we will explore the benefits of yoga to mental health and its possible risks.

Benefits of yoga to mental health

Some of the powerful benefits of yoga to mental health include:

1. Yoga increases cognition

Stimulating parts of the body to take action regularly increases their efficiency. For instance, if you start lifting weights, your muscles grow bigger and start getting used to weight lifting with time.

This applies to yoga, too. Regular yoga practice causes the physical elements of the practice to increase the body’s flexibility and strength, but the mindful aspects have a significant effect on the brain.

Yoga can stimulate the brain cells, causing them to develop new connections. It can cause brain function and structure changes, further enhancing cognitive abilities like memory and learning. 

A study review of the effects of yoga on brain health as assessed with fMRI, MRI, and SPECT indicated that yoga has a positive impact on the structure and function of the amygdala, hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and brain networks.

2. Yoga relieves depression

Researchers found that yoga may help treat depression, just like psychotherapy and medications. Another good thing about yoga is like, unlike medications, they do not have side effects that can cause further health complications. 

The combination of physical movement and meditation found in yoga offers two great elements that can help relieve depression. 

According to research, people with the major depressive disorder tend to have lower serotonin levels. 

However, serotonin is a chemical messenger that acts as a mood stabiliser; therefore, it is vital for treating depression. And since yoga is a form of body and mind exercise, it offers a natural way to increase serotonin production.  

3. Yoga reduces stress and anxiety

Stress and constant anxiety can affect one’s mental health. According to the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety disorders are among the most common mental disorder that affects an estimated 30% of the global population.

People may experience breathing problems such as shortness of breath when they are anxious. Because people can benefit from the calming music, peaceful atmosphere, and breathing exercises during yoga, therapists may recommend it alongside other treatment plans for treating people with anxiety.

Yoga increases relaxation response over stress response. This, in turn, increases the heart rate variability (HRV). This means that your body now starts monitoring itself and adapting better to stress.

Other ways yoga can reduce stress and anxiety are by lowering blood pressure and resting heart rate, making breathing easier, and increasing pain tolerance. 

Studies have shown that yoga can help relieve everyday aches and pain, which can, in turn, reduce stress. According to Havard Health, yoga can help people with migraines, arthritis, lower back pain, and other chronic pain conditions.

4. Yoga improves sleep

To function optimally, everyone needs good-quality sleep, and research suggests that yoga may help induce quality sleep.

A 2020 study carried out to find out the effect of yoga on insomnia and sleep quality in women with sleep problems found that yoga may improve sleep quality and may help manage sleep problems. The study found no adverse effects of yoga.

There is a close connection between sleep and mental health. Just as sleep can worsen mental health disorders, mental health disorders can also make it harder for someone to fall asleep.

Therefore, health experts strongly believe that improving your quality of sleep can significantly benefit your mental health and can also help treat psychiatric disorders. 

5. Yoga positively impacts social life

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

If you attend group yoga, you may benefit from socialising and interacting with others. Having a good social life can be great for a person’s mental and physical health. 

Doing yoga as a group creates a platform where you do things together with others, moving your bodies and doing breathing exercises in synchrony. This can give you a sense of belonging and may make you bond better with others. 

Also, when you are exposed to others who are mindful of their health and interact with them, it further inspires you to make other healthy lifestyle changes. Healthy lifestyle habits can promote your mental health. 

Is yoga safe?

Yoga practice is generally safe. It doesn’t have side effects associated with it. However, yoga can cause injuries like strains and sprains, especially when participants don't practice the right forms or use the right body postures. People with pre-existing health conditions or poor techniques are more prone to injuries during yoga.

Also, older adults need to be more careful when doing yoga. Because they have lower bone density and muscle strength, they have a higher risk of sustaining injuries while doing yoga compared to younger people. 

If you have a pre-existing health condition or a disability, it would be best to talk to a doctor before you start yoga. Also, while yoga can complement your treatment plan, it should not be used as a substitute for your medical treatment. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is yoga a form of meditation?

Yoga is a form of exercise, different from meditation. Still, some researchers consider it a "mobile meditation" because it combines different specific body postures, relaxation, meditation, and breathing techniques to improve physical and mental health.

Does yoga count as strength training?

Yoga is more commonly considered a mind-training exercise, but it can also count as strength training. According to a 2016 randomized control study, yoga practice may just be as effective as stretching-strengthening exercises in improving functional fitness in older adults with sedentary lifestyles.

Is yoga good for men?

Yes, yoga is good for both men and women. Men who practice yoga gain benefits such as improved stamina, flexibility, mobility, mood, and strength, as well as reduced risk of heart conditions.

What is the best type of yoga for mental health?

Yoga Nidra is one of the best forms of yoga for mental health. According to a recent 2023 study, it is an excellent yoga form for relieving stress. Other types of yoga that are good for mental health include Hatha yoga and Yin yoga.