Yoga is known to promote feelings of relaxation to leave you feeling zen. But what does it actually do for your mental health? Yoga comprises meditation and breathwork techniques that stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system, putting our body into the rest and recovery zone, so it’s no surprise that it has mental health benefits. From reducing depression to enhancing sleep, DOSE, explores the mental health benefits of yoga and how to use it to improve your everyday…
The Mental Health Benefits of Yoga
Yoga For Stress Reduction
Meditation, which is part of most yoga practices, can lead to greater mental clarity and reduced stress. MRI scans demonstrate that after regular mindfulness meditation practices, our brain’s fight or flight centre (also known as the amygdala) shrinks. This is a primal region in the brain linked with fear and emotion and is triggered by stress. As the amygdala shrinks, our pre-frontal cortex – associated decision making gets thicker. The more meditation we do, the less stress we feel over time.
A study demonstrated that participants who practiced yoga showed the same physical benefits as participants who practiced aerobic exercise. However, the yoga participants showed better mental health, mood and sleep results.
Releases Happy Hormones
We know that exercise releases endorphins, leaving us feeling on top of the world and high on our own supply. Yoga is no exception. As well as improving mood it can also decrease feelings of anxiety. This is achieved by increasing the brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), associated with increased mood and lowered anxiety.
Another study that incorporated PET scans observed an increase in happy hormone dopamine, in participants during practice of Yoga Nidra meditation. There is evidence to suggest that yoga promotes our mood stabilising happy hormone serotonin too. Carolyn Cowan who is a yoga teacher at Triyoga says that yoga stretches that open the front of the body, specifically the chest area, support the release of ‘love hormone’ oxytocin.
Yoga For Anxiety And Depression
Research suggests that even a brief yoga program may be beneficial in decreasing anxiety and improving health-related quality of life and sleep quality. Studies have reported several beneficial effects of yoga for treating depression symptoms.
How Yoga Encourages Other Healthy Habits
If you practice yoga and meditation as a habit, you are more likely to choose a healthier diet and make better lifestyle choices. This is because meditation calms your mind and relieves depression symptoms and improves mood. It encourages healthier decisions whether it be how you spend your morning routine or choosing a more active lifestyle. However, this heavily relies on your motivation and attitude towards these choices.
How Yoga Improves Brain Function
As seen above, there are many mental health benefits of yoga. However, yoga has been found to improve not only mental health, but overall brain function too.
If you spend a few hours a week lifting weights to strengthen your muscles, why would you avoid doing the same for your brain? It may not seem like it, but yoga is weightlifting for your brain. Lifting weights results in your muscles getting stronger. And when you practice yoga, your brain cells grow new connections. This results in changes in your brain structure and function as well as improved cognitive skills. It has been found that yoga stimulates the parts of the brain responsible for language, attention and memory.
MRI brain scan studies found that people who practiced yoga regularly had a thicker cerebral cortex and hippocampus. These areas of the brain are responsible for information processing, learning and memory. They usually shrink as we age, but practicing yoga can slow this down.
How To Use Yoga In Your Daily Routine To Improve Your Mental Health
Yoga is extremely relevant nowadays, as many have used it as a means of practicing mindfulness during the pandemic. Many studies have found that creating healthy routines and habits is a great way to be more productive throughout your day and reduce stress.
There are many aspects of yoga that can become a part of your daily routine. Meditation, poses and breathing. All can be done at different times of the day for different reasons. Feeling stressed after a work call? Pop on a 10 minute audio-guided meditation via a mediation app to keep your mind zen. Or practice a quick breathwork routine. Watch the video below for a guided breathwork exercise.
Whether you only have 10 minutes to spare or you can take your time with your morning routine, a few minutes of yoga can improve your mental health for the day. Go at your own pace and don’t put pressure to break a sweat. Any morning movement will be a good start to the day.
How Often Do You Need to Practice Yoga For Results?
Overall, every person is different and the amount of time will vary between people. It depends on your lifestyle, how often you practice mindfulness and how stressed you are regularly. As well as this, it’s more difficult for certain people due to lack of motivation. But, in an ideal situation you need to practice yoga three times per week for results.
Enjoyed this article on the mental health benefits of yoga? Read The Benefits of Breathwork.
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