“Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition . It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. ” (Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, 2014)
Originating in India, the practice of yoga was historically a spiritual discipline that aimed to create an ideal state of psychophysiological health through spiritual advancement and optimal functioning of the body and mind. However, in modern society, the multi component practices of yoga have been used in a more limited application and used primarily to enhance/maintain physical exercise. Fast forward to the present day, a paradigm shift has once again occurred, and yoga practice is once again being acknowledged for it’s multi-component teachings and its effect on both physical and psychological health. Thus today’s discipline involves physical exercise used to enhance posture and physical health, breathing regulation techniques and the practice of meditation to enhance mindful awareness.
In terms of scientific research, yoga and mental health remains an area which has been relatively unexplored, thus the mechanisms through which yoga plays a role in the treatment of different mental disorders is yet to be known and established. However, there is a growing body of evidence which suggests that yoga has doubtless benefits on an individuals sense of well being, and can therefore be used as a therapeutic intervention. Thus we have now seen an increased trend in the popularity of yoga internationally (Khalsa S.B, 2013).
Yoga for Anxiety and Depression
Research has suggested that yoga appears to modulate stress response systems, by reducing the perceived stress and anxiety of an individual, which in turn decreases physiological responses. In particular, yoga has been shown to reduce the heart rate, lower blood pressure and ease inhalation and exhalation (Harvard Health Publications, 2009). Through the components of controlled breathing techniques that are taught in yoga practice, research has also shown that learning how to control ones breathing can provide positive relief for individuals with depression. The programme, which uses a type of controlled breathing with roots in traditional yoga, called Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY), involves several types of repeated breathing patterns, ranging from slow and soothing to fast and stimulating. (Brown, R.P. et al. 2005). As a result of the combination of the multi component style of teaching, that combines exercise and relaxation techniques, preliminary evidence suggests that yoga improves mood and functioning.
The WHO states that “there is no health without mental health.” and thus far, the scientific study of yoga supports the notion that mental and physical well-being are fundamentally linked. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that the practice of yoga is a low-risk, high-reward method for improving the all encompassing definition of health. Therefore, for many individuals whose mental health is impacted through stress, anxiety and/or depression, yoga can be seen as an appealing multi-component activity that better enables one to manage their symptoms (Harvard Publications, 2009).
3 Ways Yoga can Benefit your Mental Health
- Stress Relief: Yoga can move an individual from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system, by promoting slow and controlled breathing.
- Promoting Mindfulness: Yoga improves concentration, coordination, reaction time and memory by increasing self awareness through focusing on the present and the unity of ones mind and body.
- Pain Relief: Studies have demonstrated that a combination of practicing postures and meditation can reduce pain for people with conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, hypertension and arthritis. Some instructors also report that even emotional pain can be eased through the practice of yoga.
Remember, it’s important to find a type of yoga that suits your individual physical and mental needs. For a short explanation of different types of yoga, follow this link.