Yoga for Mental Health

One way to improve mental health and well-being is to focus on gentle stretching and deep breathing through the practice of yoga. Several studies show yoga has the most significant positive outcome for anyone struggling with depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental illnesses. 

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What is Yoga?

Yoga is a form of physical exercise that comprises different breathing techniques, body poses, stretching, and meditation. There are several types of yoga and multiple disciplines within the practice. A person can choose a style based on their goals and fitness level. 

Common types of yoga practices in the USA include:

  • Hatha yoga: Hatha yoga teaches physical poses. Hatha classes are used as a gentle introduction for beginners. The exercises incorporate softer and slower-paced movements to help beginners learn the main relaxation techniques and postures used in typical yoga practice.
  • Vinyasa yoga: With Vinyasa yoga, the pacing starts slow and gets faster gradually. It connects breathing and movement to increase strength and build lean muscle mass throughout the body.
  • Bikram: Bikram helps blood to flow. It is practiced in a hot room where one engages in several evenly paced, low-impact moves to increase the heart rate and improve circulation.
  • Restorative yoga: Restorative yoga involves five or six poses practiced for an hour to help a person relax. The practice is about slowing down and opening the body via passive stretching. Restorative classes are pretty gentle and are an excellent way to de-stress.
  • Lyengar: Lyengar classes use props like straps, chairs, and blocks to help a person find a suitable body alignment. Lyengar moves focus on time and precision to build strength and stability.
  • Ashtanga: Ashtanga is a highly energetic and vigorous style designed to make one sweat. It focuses on quick-paced processes that are physically demanding.

Mental Health Benefits of Yoga

Improved Mood

Yoga stimulates the production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, the “feel-good chemicals” that contribute to feelings of well-being and happiness. Yoga can also influence mood by raising gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) chemicals responsible for improved mood and diminished anxiety. 

Meditation also slows down the activities in the limbic system, which controls emotions. With decreased emotional reactivity, one has a more tempered response while handling stressful situations. Besides, regular yoga teaches deep focus and mindful breathing, which are crucial elements in helping relieve symptoms of depression.

Sharper Brain

Yoga exercises help brain cells to develop new connections in brain structure. These new connections can improve cognitive skills such as memory and learning. Just like weightlifting strengthens body muscles, yoga strengthens the parts of the brain. 

Practicing yoga can strengthen parts of the brain that play a crucial role in memory, attention, language, thought, and awareness. Several studies that leverage MRI scans and other brain imaging technologies reveal persons who practice yoga regularly develop thicker cerebral cortexes and hippocampus compared to those who don’t practice yoga. These parts of the brain are responsible for information processing, learning, and memory. 

Although the cortex and hippocampus shrink with age, older yoga practitioners recorded minor shrinkage than non-yoga practitioners. This shows yoga can help slow age-related declines in memory and cognitive skills.

Improved Sleep

Sleep has several mental benefits, including a lower risk of depression and other mental disorders. Studies show yoga can help improve sleep, especially in older adults. 

Practicing yoga can help a person manage symptoms of insomnia. In recent yoga research, participants aged 60 reported an increase in both the quantity and quality of their sleep. They also experienced a rise in their sleep efficiency. 

Reduce Anger and Feelings of Frustration

Anger is an unavoidable emotion that everyone goes through when physically or emotionally hurt. Anger triggers a horde of emotional and physical problems when one cannot control it. 

Studies show yoga can help increase one’s ability to control anger which is key to decreasing verbal aggression in adults. Yoga for anger management helps to stabilize the nervous system and control anger. Non-strenuous slow yoga classes relax muscles and make one feel much calmer.

Reduce Anxiety

Studies also show yoga can help reduce anxiety symptoms, including performance anxiety. Anxiety occurs when the body releases stress hormones as part of the fight, flight or freeze response. Experts explain yoga helps decrease anxiety by reducing the levels of stress hormones in the body. 

Evidence suggests that yoga can be helpful to people living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalized anxiety disorder(GAD). Some popular yoga poses for anxiety include power, Hatha, and Satyananda.

Alleviate PTSD symptoms

About 12 million Americans have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) Symptoms. Yoga has been shown to alleviate physiological arousal in PTSD patients by syncing awareness movement with breath. 

It is also believed to be critical in improving somatic regulation and body awareness. These concepts are crucial to emotion regulation in persons with PTSD. Yoga teaches individuals how to befriend their bodies. The practice also ensures they are better equipped to navigate the complexities of trauma and its associated physiological effects.

Boost Concentration, Focus, and Memory

Experts reveal that practicing yoga can help boost concentration, focus, and memory because one has to focus during practice. Yoga requires a focal point during balancing and postures. This also helps a person listen to their body so they don’t push themselves too far to result in injuries. 

Yoga practice teaches one to clear their thoughts and calm their senses. Practicing yoga can help improve their brain’s ability to concentrate on one thing at a time. By clearing all the distractions around them, the exercises also help clear space in their mind for better memory.

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