Did you know that roughly 300 million people across the world practice yoga? What may have seemed like a temporary exercise fad has evolved into a way of life. This way of life may be able to help with another thing that’s on the rise – more and more people in the United States are struggling with their mental health. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that 20 percent of Americans live with a mental health condition.
Yoga and Brain Health
According to Harvard University, when someone practices yoga, their brain cells create new connections, much the same way our muscles create new tissue. More connections means changes to the brain’s structure as well as function, improving cognitive skills including learning and memory.
Memory, attention, awareness, thought, and language can all be reinforced through yoga. Even MRI scans have shown that those involved in yoga regularly had a thicker cerebral cortex, which is the region of the brain tied to information processing, and hippocampus, the region associated with learning and memory, as compared to those who did not practice yoga.
While this area of the brain tends to shrink as we age, even older practitioners of yoga experienced less shrinkage than those who did not practice yoga.
This phenomenon was noticed by Dr. Corinna Keenmon, medical director of psychiatry and telepsychiatry at Houston Methodist. “Making yoga a part of our lives can help protect against the effects of again on our memory and cognition,” she opined.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression or another mental health condition, yoga can help you cope. In this post, we’re going to explore some of the top mental health benefits of yoga.
7 Mental Health Benefits of Yoga
1. Relief from Depression
Yoga combines exercise, meditation and socialization into one activity. On their own, each of these aspects can help relieve depression, but when combined, their therapeutic effects are even stronger.
A key part of yoga focuses on your breathing. Throughout your practice, you’ll maintain a deep and rhythmic breath. This practice can help you regulate your stress response system, which can counteract depressive thoughts and emotions.
It should be further mentioned that this relief from depression comes essentially free of charge with none of the side effects tied to some anti-depression medications.
2. Improved Mood
If you’re struggling with a mental health condition, you may experience shifts in your mood. The good news is yoga can help lift your spirits.
As with any kind of exercise, yoga can improve your mood by reducing the levels of stress hormones and carrying oxygen-rich blood to your brain. Yoga can also elevate levels of a brain chemical called GABA which can significantly help you in feeling better.
Your brain contains a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric, or GABA. GABA helps regulate your emotions on a daily basis. The lower your GABA level is, the more likely you are to experience anxiety, depression and negative feelings.
Studies from the National Library of Medicine have shown that even one hour of yoga can increase your body’s GABA levels. Higher GABA levels means your body will be better prepared to manage anxiety and depression.
Furthermore, while yoga involves slower movements, it can still elevate your heart rate, include your muscles, and stimulate the release of other chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, making you feel happier.
3. Lowered Levels of Anxiety
It’s common for people to start practicing yoga to cope with their anxiety. Negative automatic thoughts are one of the main drivers of stress and make you jump to the worst possible conclusion in any scenario. A regular yoga practice can teach you how to focus on the present moment. This mindset can help you identify and minimize negative automatic thoughts before they cause anxiety.
Meditation can also lower the activity in your limbic system, that part of your brain tied to emotions. This allows you to get a better handle on stressful situations as your emotions are not as near the surface.
4. Increased Concentration
Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression can make it difficult to concentrate. However, yoga can increase your ability to focus and avoid distractions. For example, many yoga classes incorporate a variety of balance poses. When you’re trying to stay still while balancing on one leg, it’s hard to think of anything else.
With practice, yoga can teach you how to divert your focus away from depression and anxiety. If you learn how to clear out the noise in your head, you will be in a better position to cope with mental health conditions.
A 2017 study done by the University of Waterloo showed that practitioners of Hatha yoga or mindfulness meditation had improved executive functioning in their brains, better cognitive abilities connected to gal-directed behavior, and were better able to control emotional responses to triggers.
5. Improved Sleep Habits
In addition to helping you concentrate, yoga has the potential to improve your sleep habits. A regular yoga practice can increase your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone in the brain that regulates your sleep cycle. In fact, a recent study found that men who practiced yoga for a month saw a drastic increase in their natural melatonin levels.
Better sleep each night can improve your mental health and make it easier to cope with symptoms.
6. Improved Self-Esteem
When you’re in a yoga class, you’re guided through the exercises and encouraged to go at your own pace. Yoga teachers will often give you opportunities to try new poses and challenges. During these moments, they will reinforce that a drop in balance or taking a break is nothing to be ashamed of.
They won’t judge or make you feel bad; instead, they’ll reassure and help you feel good about your progress. This type of encouragement can help boost your self-esteem and improve your mental health.
7. Relief from PTSD Symptoms
If you’re struggling with PTSD, the physical or emotional trauma you experienced can make you feel disconnected with yourself and others. Yoga offers a compassionate and welcoming community where you can ease back into social interactions without feeling overwhelmed.
Plus, the physical exercise component of yoga is a healthy way to cope with some of the stress caused by PTSD.
Explore Premier Mental Health Treatment in Denver
While yoga has a variety of benefits for your mental health, it’s only part of effective mental health treatment. At The Raleigh House, we use an “east to west” approach to treatment that incorporates evidence-based techniques and experiential therapies.
With a combination of group therapy, yoga and other empowering activities, we can help you overcome your mental health disorder. If you’re ready to start your journey to lasting recovery, we’re here to help. Contact our admissions team today to get started.