How Yoga Can Help Your Mental Health
Yoga has been established over millennia as an excellent practice for both the mind and body. In addition to being a form of exercise designed to tone, stretch, and promote mind body awareness, there is a growing trend in psychotherapy to use yoga as a treatment tool for mental health concerns.
In addition to body awareness, a regular practice of yoga relieves stress, sharpens attention and concentration, calms the core of your central nervous system, and improves your sense of belonging with others.
Specifically, yoga has been shown to significantly improve and alleviate symptoms of clinical anxiety, depression, attention deficit and hyperactivity (ADHD), sleep disorders, and schizophrenia (when implemented alongside drug therapy).
How does this work?
Mainly through regulating nerve activity, both through increasing levels of the chemical, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), our chief inhibitory neurotransmitter, and eliciting the relaxation response.
The release of GABA is particularly helpful for those experiencing chronic anxiety. The relaxation response, coined by Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School, is shown to lead to significant improvement in mental health, where it counters the fight or flight response, caused by daily stressors or chronic stress.
One in four people will be affected by a mental health disorder worldwide, and over 450 million people suffer from some form of mental illness. The issue cannot be ignored.
Yoga is a promising alternative therapy that can be used to supplement the use of drugs to treat clinically diagnosed mental illnesses. Here are three ways yoga can benefit your mental health:
1. Positive Changes in the Brain
GABA inhibits signals in the brain instead of promoting them. GABA also prevents your brain from being too busy with recurring and stray thoughts that can often lead to anxiety and depression.
People with clinical anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are already shown to have low levels of GABA. There is an inability for them, due to this deficiency, to shift perception and physiological reactions. With a rise in GABA levels, symptoms of these disorders lessen and reactions improve.
Also, the starting and stopping of yoga movements improves the relationship between the caudate and other motor areas of the brain through practicing control and mindful attention, which in turn generates energy in the frontal-cortical regions.
Since people with major depression and bipolar disorder tend to have less volume and activity in this region of the brain, a galvanized prefrontal cortex helps these patients with shifting attention, responding in new ways, and manage competing goals.
2. Changes in Harmful Behaviors and Habits
Having long standing habits and ways of negative thinking can be detrimental to your mental health, especially if these behaviors and habits are intertwined with anxiety and depression. Yoga helps dislodge embedded thought patterns, helping people stay sharp with regulating thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Yoga also helps you be mindful of how you eat, drink, and exercise, which also contributes to mental health, self-care, and overall well-being.
3. Experience Deeper, More Replenishing Sleep
Sleep quality is improved in a number of ways through practicing yoga. Through reducing stress, regulating your nervous system, and helping your mind shut down, yoga promotes both the quality of waking and sleeping life.
Yoga helps cure insomnia, which is critical for promoting mental health and well-being. The regular practice of yoga at bedtime promotes self-care and a routine to follow that helps signal to your mind that it is time to shut down and go to sleep.
Helping your mind shut down reduces the likelihood of ruminating thoughts, worrying, and other negative thinking patterns. Sleep longer, fall asleep faster, and have less sleep disturbance when you incorporate yoga into your daily life.
If you are experiencing mental health issues, there are answers. Take advantage of yoga as an alternative form of psychotherapy, in addition to any prescribed medications. Reap the full benefits of this discipline for improving your mind, as well as all mind body benefits associated with yoga.