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Wonderful mental health benefits of yoga

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

The power of yoga for mental wellbeing

Our emotional wellbeing and mental health can be affected at different times in our lives for different reasons: life is tough! At some point, we all experience things such as change, loss and bereavement, tricky relationships, or difficult circumstances, and what happens to us on the outside has an impact on our internal world. Continue reading if you want to find out about the benefits of yoga beyond the time on the mat.


Photo of Kayleigh Darch from BAM Therapy Exeter on a yoga mat in a blog post about the mental health benefits of Yoga

In the West, there has often been a particular focus on hatha yoga – the yoga of movement and physical postures – and at times there can be a skewed emphasis on achieving a certain physical pose (asana) or how the body looks. How many photographs have we seen on social media of someone in a complicated yoga pose (yet looking effortless!)? My answer is: lots and lots! Whilst these images might be inspirational for some people or motivating for someone else, yoga philosophy and practice is far richer than just the physical movements and benefits. Yoga is a whole mind, body and spirit system, and there is a growing body of scientific research that evidences the benefits of yoga on our mental health.


Improved mood

Studies have explored the consequences of yoga on levels of depression and low mood. Researchers have examined the effects of yoga with clinical groups (such as people diagnosed with depression and for people taking anti-depressant medication) as well as non-clinical groups (people with no history of accessing support for mood). These studies showed that regular yoga classes, such as twenty 60-90 minute classes of yoga, led to significant reductions in depression and anger, showing that yoga helps to improve mood and reduce the intensity and severity of depression (Bussing et al., 2012; Shapiro et al., 2007).


Other studies indicate that yoga helps to improve other negative emotional experiences that are associated with depressed mood. Research has reported that regular yoga sessions helped participants achieve reduced levels of tension and anxiety, improved mood state, less anger, lower levels of fatigue and reduced confusion (Lavey et al., 2005). Research has also showed that yoga can help some people recover fully from their depression: one study demonstrated that after just 8 weeks of regular yoga classes 65% of the participants in the study achieved full remission from depression (Shapiro et al., 2007).


Reduced stress and anxiety

Research shows that yoga helps to decrease feelings of anxiety for a wide range of people, including those with physical health problems, those with a diagnosed mental health problem and for the general population (Gupta et al., 2006). Studies have reported positive outcomes of regular yoga on levels of stress and anxiety. Evidence shows that just 10 weeks of yoga led to reduced stress and anxiety and improved self-reported quality of life (Smith et al., 2007), and that two months of yoga can improve the experience of anxiety (Javnbakht et al., 2009). Interestingly, some research shows that yogic breathing alone, one aspect of yoga classes, can alleviate stress and anxiety (Bussing et al., 2012).


Photo of dandelion seed heads in a post by BAM Therapy Exeter on the benefits of yoga and wellbeing in yoga

Decreased back pain

You might be wondering why research looking at back pain and yoga are being discussed in a post focused on mental wellbeing? Well, it is well known that the body and mind are inexplicably linked, and that our experience of pain is largely dependent upon how we respond to the physical experience in our minds (how we think about the pain sensation). Equally, there is a significant cross-over between having physical health problems and our mental health - we can worry about our physical health, which in turn affects both our bodily experiences and emotional wellbeing. Research with people experiencing chronic lower back pain shows that both yoga and yogic breathing techniques helps to reduce levels of back pain, improve mood, and lessen anxiety (Tekur et al., 2012). Interestingly, this study also found that yoga was more effective than standard physical therapy methods at decreasing the anxiety associated with back pain (Tekur et al., 2012).


Better sleep

Yoga can help you to get a better night’s sleep - something that supports our general wellbeing and body and mind systems. Meta-analyses that review many research studies have showed that regular yoga classes help improve both the quality of sleep and severity of insomnia, as measured by subjective self-report (the person’s view of their sleep) and also objective physiological measures such as polysomnography (Wang et al., 2020).


So, on top of all the very well-documented physical benefits of yoga (like better flexibility, developing strength, and improved mobility) and our personal motivations that take us to yoga classes, hold in mind that your regular yoga practices also support better psychological health.


Whether you're a well-versed yogi, or your new to the world of yoga: join BAM Therapy for a yoga class or course and experience the benefits of yoga for yourself.


See you on your yoga mat!



References

  • Bussing, A., Michalsen, A., Khalsa, S. B. S., Telles, S. & Sherman, K. J. (2012). Effects of Yoga on Mental and Physical Health: A Short Summary of Reviews. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

  • Gupta, N., Khera, S., Vempati, R. P., Sharma, R. & Bijlani, R. L. (2006). Effect of Yoga Based Lifestyle Intervention on State and Trait Anxiety. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol, 50 (1), 41-47.

  • Javnbakht, M., Kenari, R. H., & Ghasemi, M. (2009). Effects of Yoga on Depression and Anxiety of Women. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 15, 102-104.

  • Lavey, R., Sherman, T., Mueser, K. T., Osborne, D. D., Currier, M. & Wolfe, R. (2005). The Effects of Yoga on Mood in Psychiatric Patients. Psychiatr Rehabil J, 28 (4), 399-402.

  • Shapiro, D., Cook, I. A., Davydov, D. M., Ottaviani, C., Leuchter, A. F. & Abrams, M. (2007). Yoga as a Complementary Treatment of Depression: Effects of Traits and Moods on Treatment Outcome. eCAM, 4 (4), 493-502.

  • Smith, C., Hancock, H., Blake-Mortimer, J. & Eckert, K. (2007). A Randomised Comparative Trial of Yoga and Relaxation to Reduce Stress and Anxiety. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 15, 77-81.

  • Tekur, P., Nagarathna, R., Chametcha, S., Hankey, A. & Nagendra, H. R. (2012). A Comprehensive Yoga Program Improves Pain, Anxiety and Depression in Chronic Low Back Pain Patients More than Exercise: An RCT. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 20, 107-118.

  • Wang, W-L., Chen, K-H., Pan, Y-C., Yang, S-N, & Chan, Y-Y. (2020). The Effect of Yoga on Sleep Quality and Insomnia on Women with Sleep Problems: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. BMC Psychiatry, 20: 195.

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