Although you may be aware of the physical benefits that yoga offers, you may be less familiar with the benefits of yoga for mental health. Before outlining how yoga can improve your mental health, it should be of note yoga is an individual journey that is open to all fitness levels. Speaking from personal experience, many people believe that if you are inflexible, then you can not practice yoga. However, there are modifications to every yoga pose, and speed is determined by your individual needs. The more you practice yoga, the more flexible you will become! There are also many different forms of yoga, and there are many meditative exercises that do not require flexibility. It is a fantastic way to align your mind with your body, while simultaneously experiencing a wide range of mental health benefits.
Benefits of yoga for mental health
1. Yoga promotes stress relief and can reduce anxiety
The first benefit of yoga for mental health is that it can help with stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety are so common in today’s busy world; so many people experience heightened levels of stress and anxiety. Though yoga may not cure or completely remove your stress and anxiety, it can certainly ease it.
One of the main intentions of yoga is to create a calming and relaxing environment that can promote stress and anxiety relief. By releasing physical tensions in the body and focusing on breathing, yoga poses can help release emotional tensions as well. When you engage in yoga poses your body releases mood-boosting endorphins, which are hormones that can positively impact how your body and mind cope with stress. Though most exercises increase endorphins, yoga can actually elevate levels of a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is associated with improved mood and less anxiety.
Many people who suffer from anxiety experience a fast heartbeat and rapid breathing when anxious. The meditation aspect of yoga can enable you to focus on your breathing, clear your mind, and become more in tune with your physical symptoms of anxiety. Yoga essentially cares for your body as it soothes your mind, and it is a great way to manage stress and anxiety.
2. Yoga can change how your brain looks!
When you think about going to the gym, it’s likely that one of your goals is to strengthen your body’s muscles. Though yoga certainly enables muscle strengthening and flexibility, it can also positively change your brain structure! It is basically a workout for your body and your mind.
A main goal of yoga is to connect your mind with your body through meditative exercises. When you perform yoga, your brain cells actually form new connections. Science has shown that yoga can enhance parts of the brain that contribute to memory, attention, awareness, thought, and language. It is amazing to think that a low impact exercise can have so many benefits, and can even thicken parts of the brain that are responsible for higher order brain functioning. Yoga has also been shown to maintain the vitality of your brain. The same way that working out keeps your body healthy, so too, yoga preserves the health of your brain. Yoga is unique in the sense that it combines meditation with physically challenging exercises, which is excellent for your brain and can improve your mental health.
3. Yoga can improve sleep
A critical part of caring for your mental health is ensuring that you are getting enough sleep. Doing yoga, particularly the meditative aspects of yoga, may put you in a state of mind that allows your body to enter sleep more effortlessly. A national survey found that over 55% of people who did yoga found it to help them get better sleep. Yoga allows you to be mindful, increase your breathing awareness and regulation, and tire the body in a healthy way. All of these benefits may improve your sleep, which can definitely improve your mental health.
4. Yoga can improve self-esteem and self- acceptance
Everyone experiences days when they feel insecure about their body-image and overall self-esteem. For some people, body image dissatisfaction is a very common part of each day. Studies have found that a benefit of yoga for mental health is that it can help improve body image. Often, instructors focus on instilling a sense of accomplishment within each yoga practice. In many yoga practices there is also a sense of acceptance of where your body is today. With yoga, you can learn to look at your body for how it functions and moves instead of focusing solely on what it looks like. It is also a very rewarding feeling to know that you are pushing yourself to do something good for your mind and body. It takes courage to try a new exercise and stick with it, and this alone may improve your self-esteem! Mental health is highly related to self-esteem, and yoga can certainly be a way to improve it.
5. Yoga can help provide relief for depression
Many therapists and doctors recommend doing daily exercise to help relieve symptoms of depression. Because yoga offers a combination of exercise and relaxation, this form of exercise is particularly good for those who experience depression. Yoga enables you to regulate your stress response system and clear your mind by focusing on the present moment. Further, people with depression often experience symptoms like energy loss and difficulty concentrating. Yoga practices are often relaxing and leave the individual feeling more rejuvenated both physically and mentally. This feeling of rejuvenation can really improve energy levels and enhance your ability to focus on the present. Lastly, yoga naturally increases your levels of serotonin. According to the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, increasing your body’s level of serotonin production can greatly improve symptoms of depression.
How yoga is helpful for your mental health- takeaway:
Yoga is not only beneficial for your physical health but also has many benefits for your mental health. Yoga can help with depression, stress, self esteem, sleep, and body image. Yoga can even change the way your brain looks. It can be done in a studio or in the comfort of your own home. If you are looking to participate in group yoga class, this can be a great way to meet new people and be a part of a community. The socialization aspect of group yoga classes can create a sense of belonging which can improve your mental health. However, it is important to note that each yoga studio is different. We encourage you to do a bit of research to figure out which studio would be the best fit for you. You can even schedule a tour so that you can see if there is body diversity in the yoga studio. If you want to start your yoga journey at home, below are links to youtube videos for different types of yoga.
If you are struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, or insomnia yoga can help. However, we know that it is not a fix and you may be needing more support. At Best Within You Therapy & Wellness we are here to help. You are welcome to reach out to schedule a complimentary consultation.
Thank you Jacqueline Zimmerman, University of Maryland psychology major and Best Within You Therapy & Wellness intern for help with this blog post.