There is a thriving body of analysis to back up yoga’s mental health benefits. Yoga increases body consciousness, relieves stress, decreases muscle tension, strain, and swelling, sharpens attention and concentration, and calms and focuses on the nervous system.
Yoga’s positive gains on mental health have made it an urgent practice tool of psychotherapy (American Psychological Association). It has been shown to enhance human well being through a sense of relating to others, and improve the symptoms of depression, attention deficit and hyperactivity, and sleep disorders. Also, yoga can improve indications of schizophrenia when it is done adjacent to drug therapy (Yoga and Mental Health, Huffington Post 2013).
Plus, yoga has been shown to enhance the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a chemical in the brain that helps to control nerve activity. This is especially relevant to people who have anxiety dysfunctions in which GABA activity is weak (Yoga and Your Mood, the Ultimate Yogi).
Yoga also elevates the mood, behavior, and mindfulness of high school students taking yoga sessions in addition to PE than students taking PE alone (yoga classes help highschool students). It has been shown to improve workplace well-being and resilience (The Effectiveness of Yoga for Well Being in the Workplace). Yoga stretches for the lower back muscles also improves flexibility and reduces pain.
But, let’s not stop here. Yoga’s advantages 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 decreasing markers of swelling in adults taking care of loved ones stricken with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia (UCLA’s Late-Life Depress, Stress, and Wellness Research Program).
Mind and body workouts, like yoga, meditation, deep breathing and prayer help to reduce stress and improves stress-related nervous system irregularities (Psychological Benefits of Yoga). But, how do they do this? Is there one main mechanism at play here?
Researchers say it is the relaxation response that guides these mind and body practices that lead to the many alterations to physical and mental health. A new research from researchers at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) finds that the intense, physiological state of rest induced by such practices produces direct positive change in the expression of genes involved in immune function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion (Genes and Physiological Pathways Altered in the Relaxation Response, Science Daily, May 2013).
What is a profound state of physiological relaxation? It is a change in peace and amusement that takes place on a neurobiological level. Even having a great time out with friends or family is not amply to relax your biology on a cellular level. It takes a specific amount of brain and body stimulation to laugh, animatedly move our faces and bodies, and to hear and respond effectively to social prompts. We need adequately adrenaline pumping to our brain, heart, and muscles to do this. So, you see, even socializing, playing a pleasant game of tennis or golf, or shopping with a friend is a state of biochemical stress. For the body to rest at the nerve and cellular level, we need to change body processes that shift us biochemically from a state of excitement and tension to a state of calm, deep rest. The only deep breathing that tends mind-body practices like yoga can do this.
Choose a yoga class that fits with your physical capacity and mental health requirements. There are yoga courses for beginners and advanced. There are also courses designed specifically for pregnant women and overweight or physically disabled.