Benefits of Yoga for Mental Health
Urban people often find it difficult to find a breathing space in the bustling life. As a result, many people choose to practice yoga to heal and relax the soul through movement, breathing, and meditation. These are the psychological benefits that people often reference. In fact, studies have suggested that yoga also enhances cognition skills, social skills and overall mental health. Combined with the physical benefits of yoga that many also seek from, it is one of the few physical activities that connect our brains to our bodies nicely.
Although many people might have practiced yoga once or twice, yoga is actually much more than stretching and holding poses. Yoga is a more comprehensive practice that encompasses different life principles, whether or not the practitioners choose to take onto them. Here, let us learn about some of the mental health benefits you can get from practicing yoga.
As most of you may know, all exercise can boost your mood by increasing the production of “feel-good” hormones such as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, and lower levels of stress hormones. However, yoga has much more to offer. For example, meditation, which is found in many types of yoga, can reduce activity in the limbic system – the part of the brain that controls our emotions. As limbic activity reduces, you have a more tempered response when facing stressful situations.
Relieve stress, anxiety, and other psychological conditions
A number of studies have pointed out that the secretion of cortisol, the “stress hormone” is greatly reduced when urban people practice yoga. The level of cortisol secretion reflects the stress level of urban people. Therefore, one of the mental benefits of practicing yoga can effectively reduce the pressure of urbanites.
Yoga can also be helpful for those who are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Several studies applied yoga to PTSD patients and showed that yoga can have outcomes that are similar to those of talk therapy. Many symptoms of PTSD are physical, such as perspiration, increased heart rate and “flashbacks” of trauma. The use of meditation, breathing coordination and sequenced movements have been shown to reduce these symptoms, compared with those in a dialectical behaviour therapy group. According to these studies, yoga is especially beneficial to patients with PTSD and other psychological conditions. It brings emphasis to the connectedness of mind and body, allowing for feelings of control and understanding.
Improve sleep quality
Some studies have pointed out that the sleep quality of respondents after learning yoga is better than before. This may be more true for older adults. In a study of yoga participants over the age of 60, participants reported an increase in both the quality and quantity of their sleep. Improved sleep quality and sleep efficacy can also improve other aspects of mental and physical health, such as quality of life, general fatigue and ability to concentrate.
Improve the quality of life
Many studies have pointed out that learning yoga not only improves the quality of sleep, but also improves mental and spiritual health, improves social interaction, and promotes communication between people. Since yoga is often practiced in groups, regularly, practicing yoga often enhances communication and social life. Social ties can positively affect both mental and physical health. Yogis can support and encourage each other while learning and practicing yoga.
Also, acting in unison with others carries unique social benefits that may not be obvious to most. Moving and breathing at the same time as other people can bring you a sense of belonging and create bonding with the group.
A sharper brain
When we practice yoga, our brains develop new connections and functions, resulting in improved cognitive skills, such as learning and memory. Studies have found that regular practitioners of yoga had a thicker cerebral cortex (part of the brain for information processing) and hippocampus (part of the brain for learning and memory). These areas of the brain typically shrink and deteriorate as one ages, but the studies show that older yoga practitioners showed less shrinkage compared to non-practitioners. Although there still has not been a lot of studies dedicated to this area, and more research will be needed for a strong conclusion, this suggests that yoga may counteract age-related declines in memory and other cognitive skills.
How to use yoga to improve your mental health
Although yoga may seem like (and is mostly) a low-risk activity, it can cause sprains or strains if done wrong. The risks are higher for older individuals and those who have pre-existing health conditions. Therefore, the best way to learn yoga is with a qualified yoga master that you can consult, and can correct and modify your poses. You will also learn the safe way to practice yoga and learn to avoid any injuries while doing yoga.
Once you have the basics covered, there are plenty of resources out there to help you practice and improve your yoga poses. Many books, DVD or even online videos can be great guides to learn and improve your yoga. You will benefit from yoga as long as you practice regularly, safely and at your own pace. You can adjust the frequency and intensity of your yoga depending on your needs and situation.
While yoga has many positive effects on mental health, especially on psychological conditions, it is very important that yoga should not be used as or in place of any form of therapy or medication, but as a supplement. Look for a yoga master or studio near you, and get started!
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