There is a growing body of research to back up yoga’s mental health benefits. Yoga increases body awareness, relieves stress, reduces muscle tension, strain, and inflammation, sharpens attention and concentration, and calms and centers the nervous system.
Yoga’s positive benefits on mental health have made it an important practice tool of psychotherapy (American Psychological Association). It has been shown to enhance social well being through a sense of belonging to others, and improve the symptoms of depression, attention deficit and hyperactivity, and sleep disorders. Also, yoga can improve symptoms of schizophrenia when it is done alongside drug therapy. Also, yoga has been shown to increase the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a chemical in the brain that helps to regulate nerve activity. This is especially relevant to people who have anxiety disorders in which GABA activity is low.
Yoga also improves the mood, behavior, and mindfulness of high school students taking yoga classes in addition to PE than students taking PE alone It has been shown to improve workplace well-being and resilience. Yoga’s benefits extend to adult caregivers who experience lower life satisfaction, depression, and stress and high levels of biological markers for inflammation. One study found that practicing a 12-minute daily eight-week program of yoga exercise resulted in reducing markers of inflammation in adults taking care of loved ones stricken with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Researchers say it is the relaxation response that accompanies these mind and body practices that lead to the many improvements to physical and mental health. Research also finds that the deep, physiological state of rest induced by such practices produces immediate positive change in the expression of genes involved in immune function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion.
We need enough adrenaline pumping to our brain, heart, and muscles to do this. So, you see, even socializing, playing an enjoyable game of tennis or golf, or shopping with a friend is actually a state of biochemical tension. For the body to relax at the nerve and cellular level, we need to alter body processes that shift us biochemically from a state of excitement and tension to a state of calm, deep rest and relaxation. Only deep breathing that accompanies mind-body practices like yoga can do this.
Although many forms of yoga practice are safe, some are strenuous and may not be appropriate for everyone. In particular, elderly patients or those with mobility problems may want to check first with a clinician before choosing yoga as a treatment option.
But for many patients dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress, yoga may be a very appealing way to better manage symptoms. Indeed, the scientific study of yoga demonstrates that mental and physical health are not just closely allied, but are essentially equivalent. The evidence is growing that yoga practice is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.