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Yoga’s Relationship with Mental Health

Yoga for Mental Health

Yoga, a set of practices thousands of years old, is growing in popularity. What once was a fringe movement has become quite mainstream. Part of the beauty of this is that we are studying yoga more deeply and understanding the benefits of yoga practice. Yoga has become a popular practice for those dealing with stress, looking for a moving meditation practice, or as a piece of addiction recovery.

Harvard Health reports multiple mental health benefits of yoga practice according to several different studies. With the passion and effort of today’s scientists and researchers, we’re able to better understand how yoga practice may impact an individual’s mental health. From helping treat schizophrenia to benefiting those struggling with depression, there are many experiences that may be helped by a regular yoga practice.

Yoga and DepressionHow Does Yoga Help Mental Health?

Yoga helps our mental health in a few ways. First, yoga reduces the stress hormone cortisol in the body, weakening our fight-or-flight response. This can help us relax a little more deeply and live in a state of less reactivity and more cognition. Although speaking with a therapist or working with a group may provide great therapeutic benefit, the movement offered in yoga can help our bodies alter the chemical processes in our brains.

Yoga also provides a social support group. You can of course do yoga from home, but many people go to a local yoga studio or class. It’s been shown that strong social relationships have significant health benefits. By going to a yoga class and building a community, you’re helping both your physical and mental health.

Finally, yoga has been used as a piece of the treatment program in treating trauma. Yoga has been used to help veterans with PTSD, as research has shown it to be helpful in treating symptoms of PTSD. Although the exact mechanism of action is unknown, it’s believed that yoga helps trauma by lessening cortisol in the bloodstream, building a mind-body awareness, and allowing the trauma in the nervous system to work its way out.

Mental Health Disorders

There are many mental health disorders that are helped with yoga practice. A 2013 study found yoga to be effective in helping treat neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, ADHD, and sleep disorders. To be clear, this study was conducted not to observe yoga as a sole treatment method, but as an adjunct treatment along with therapy, medication, and other common treatment methods.

A 2005 meta-analysis found some evidence that yoga is effective at treating anxiety, especially in younger study participants. Especially when coupled with aerobic exercise, yoga can significantly reduce anxiety levels in the short-term. Longer term practice may lead to longer term relief from anxiety.

Another study in the same year found that yoga interventions are helpful in treating depression. The study stated that further investigation of yoga as a therapeutic intervention is warranted, as the potential is there. When we’re experiencing depression, yoga is probably one of the last things we feel like doing. However, it may just make that extra difference in helping us recover!

Yoga has also been found to improve concentration and memory, help with insomnia, and decrease stress levels, anger, and fatigue. We could go on and on, but yoga has the potential to help a ton of different mental health disorders and difficult mental states.

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Bringing Yoga in as Treatment

Although yoga has many benefits to those struggling with mental health disorders, it can be hard to implement. Like therapy or many other forms of treatment, you need a trained professional. There are yoga teachers that work specifically with those struggling with mental health disorders, trauma, and/or addiction. There are also many yoga teachers who are also licensed therapists or counselors, who may be able to offer a deeper understanding.

Yoga can be strenuous on the body, especially if done incorrectly. As such, make sure you find a teacher that knows what they’re doing. You want to support and care for the student, not push them too hard into further pain or discomfort.

About the Author
This post comes to us from Crownview Co-Occuring Institute, a dual-diagnosis treatment facility in San Diego, California. Visit them at

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