In the last years, a new view on mental healthcare has been formed on mental healthcare, called positive psychology. This new view states, that mental health is not solely comprised of a reduction of negative
symptoms, such as stress or depression, but positive experiences as well, such as emotional well-being, happiness and self-realization. Yoga, among other activities, is in line with this new view, in the sense that it practices key aspects of positive psychology. More and more research has been conducted on the effects of yoga on mental health in the last years, but little have physical, chronic conditions been the focus of this research. In the form of a master thesis, a meta-analysis is conducted to study the effects of yoga on mental health in physical, chronic conditions.
What is yoga?
Yoga has been used throughout the centuries. While it has become more popular as a workout method, it was long practiced as a form of spiritual meditation.
Yoga combines movement, poses, breathing exercises, and meditation into routines to help multiple areas of health and well-being. Although some yogis may choose to practice their routines alone, many people will attend classes led by a yoga teacher.
A yoga practice can be adapted to any fitness level (it isn’t just for flexible people). When done regularly, yoga provides many different benefits to both physical and mental health.
Types of yoga
There are many different styles of yoga available. Here are six popular types of yoga you may encounter:
- Hatha yoga is usually done at a slower pace. It focuses on controlled movements, breathing techniques, and stretching.
- Asana yoga refers to body positions and yoga postures. It’s often used in other types of yoga.
- Ashtanga yoga focuses on following the same pattern of poses in a specific order. This is considered a very physically demanding type of yoga that builds body awareness and body strength.
- Iyengar yoga focuses on alignment and often uses props (like pillows, yoga blocks, or belts) to help. It’s slower-paced and very focused on the small details of form.
- Vinyasa yoga often is done at a quicker pace with a focus on connecting movements to the breath. This type is often called flow yoga or vinyasa flow.
- Kundalini yoga is designed to “unlock energy” through repeating poses, chants, or breathing exercises.
Yoga and Mental Health
2.1 Regulates your adrenal glands
Yoga lowers cortical levels. If that doesn’t sound like much, consider this. Normally, the adrenal glands secrete cortical in response to an acute crisis, which temporarily boosts immune function. If your cortical levels stay high even after the crisis, they can compromise the immune system. Temporary boosts of cortical help with long-term memory, but chronically high levels undermine memory and may lead to permanent changes in the brain. Additionally, excessive cortical has been linked with major depression, osteoporosis (it extracts calcium and other minerals from bones and interferes with the laying down of new bone), high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. In rats, high cortical levels lead to what researchers call “food seeking behavior” (the kind that drives you to eat when you’re upset, angry, or stressed). The body takes those extra calories and distributes them as fat in the abdomen, contributing to weight gain and the risk of diabetes and heart attack.
2.2 Increases your self-esteem
Many of us suffer from chronic low self-esteem. If you handle this negatively-take drugs, overeat, work too hard, sleep around-you may pay the price in poorer health physically,
International Journal of Physical Education, Sports and Health
mentally, and spiritually. If you take a positive approach and
practice yoga, you’ll sense, initially in brief glimpses and later
in more sustained views, that you’re worthwhile or, as yogic
philosophy teaches, that you are a manifestation of the Divine.
If you practice regularly with an intention of self-examination
and betterment-not just as a substitute for an aerobics class you can access a different side of yourself. You’ll experience
feelings of gratitude, empathy, and forgiveness, as well as a
sense that you’re part of something bigger. While better health
is not the goal of spirituality, it’s often a by-product, as
documented by repeated scientific studies.
2.3 Gives you peace of mind
Yoga quells the fluctuations of the mind. In other words, it slows down the
mental loops of frustration, regret, anger, fear, and desire that
can cause stress. And since stress is implicated in so many
health problems—from migraines and insomnia to lupus, MS,
eczema, high blood pressure, and heart attacks—if you learn to
quiet your mind, you’ll be likely to live longer and healthier.
2.4 Boosts your immune system functionality
Asana and pranayama probably improve immune function,
but, so far, meditation has the strongest scientific support in
this area. It appears to have a beneficial effect on the
functioning of the immune system, boosting it when needed
(for example, raising antibody levels in response to a vaccine)
and lowering it when needed (for instance, mitigating an
inappropriately aggressive immune function in an autoimmune
disease like psoriasis).
2.5 Releases tension in your limbs
Do you ever notice yourself holding the telephone or a steering
wheel with a death grip or scrunching your face when staring
at a computer screen? These unconscious habits can lead to
chronic tension, muscle fatigue, and soreness in the wrists,
arms, shoulders, neck, and face, which can increase stress and
worsen your mood. As you practice yoga, you begin to notice
where you hold tension: It might be in your tongue, your eyes,
or the muscles of your face and neck. If you simply tune in,
you may be able to release some tension in the tongue and
eyes. With bigger muscles like the quadriceps, trapeziums, and
buttocks, it may take years of practice to learn how to relax
2.6 Maintains your nervous system
Some advanced yogis can control their bodies in extraordinary
ways, many of which are mediated by the nervous system.
Scientists have monitored yogis who could induce unusual
heart rhythms, generate specific brain-wave patterns, and,
using a meditation technique, raise the temperature of their
hands by 15 degrees Fahrenheit. If they can use yoga to do
that, perhaps you could learn to improve blood flow to your
pelvis if you’re trying to get pregnant or induce relaxation
when you’re having trouble falling asleep.
Physical benefits of yoga
While yoga offers significant mental and emotional benefits, many people use it as a physical exercise routine. And it provides a lot of physical benefits! Let’s take a look at eight of the most significant physical benefits of yoga.
1. Helps reduce chronic pain
Yoga may help reduce existing pain and prevent the development of chronic pain. As people age, it’s common for them to develop joint pain and lower back pain. Research suggests yoga may help alleviate some of this pain .
Multiple studies show that certain types of yoga, like asana, vinyasa, and Iyengar, help to reduce pain while increasing flexibility and range of motion to help correct movement problems. This means that over time, yoga may help to correct the underlying cause of your chronic pain.
2. Improves range of motion and flexibility
Your range of motion and mobility play a big role in healthy aging and preventing injury. Poor posture and incorrect form when lifting objects increase your risk for pain and developing an injury.
Over time, poor posture may affect your bone, ligament, and muscle health. Forms of yoga that focus on alignment, range of motion, and posture may help to increase flexibility and prevent injury.
3. Reduces inflammation
Chronic inflammation has been associated with an increased risk for developing multiple chronic diseases and autoimmune diseases. Inflammation is a normal body response to injury or illness. The problem comes when inflammation lingers in the body, adding unhealthy stress to the body.
A 2019 review of research found that yoga may help to reduce chronic inflammation. They included studies with multiple yoga styles and found that blood inflammation biomarkers decreased after going through a yoga program. What’s more, a more significant amount of time spent practicing yoga was shown to have an even greater impact on reducing inflammatory markers .
4. May improve heart health
Yoga may help multiple factors that impact your cardiovascular health, like blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol levels, and triglycerides. High blood pressure is a risk factor for many cardiovascular conditions such as a heart attack and stroke, and it even affects your kidney health.
It’s believed the combination of exercise and relaxation techniques in yoga provides a large benefit to blood pressure. Research shows yoga significantly helps reduce blood pressure levels and heart rate .
5. Helps you sleep better
Yoga helps people of all ages get a better night’s rest. Research shows yoga helps make sleep patterns more regular and improves sleep quality .
You can use more intense yoga workouts during the day to boost physical activity and exercise time, which is known to help improve sleep quality. Or, you can complete a relaxing yoga routine close to bedtime to promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, and help you wind down.
Yoga is even useful for helping young children sleep better. Research shows yoga breathing techniques may help distract toddlers from temper tantrums and help them fall asleep quicker .
6. Improves balance
Any type of yoga that focuses on alignment and postures can help you build muscle strength, flexibility, muscle tone, and balance. Balance is essential at any age, but this especially helps older adults. As people age, there is a higher risk of falling and breaking a bone. Exercises that improve balance and strength are important for decreasing the risk of falling.
7. Strengthens lung health
Nearly all yoga practices incorporate breathing techniques into the practice. Regularly practicing yoga can improve the health of the respiratory system and lung capacity.
Yoga may help with specific lung conditions, such as asthma. One study found that yoga may slightly improve quality of life for people with asthma and help improve symptoms .
8. Reduces migraines
Migraines are a common problem in the U.S., affecting about one out of every seven adults each year. Around 14% of people in the U.S. have experienced at least one migraine within a 3-month period.
Migraines aren’t fully understood. Possible triggers for migraines include sleep problems, hormone changes, stress, muscle tension, and other factors.
A 2019 study found that yoga may help reduce the number of headaches migraine sufferers experience, how long their headaches last, and the amount of pain they experience from migraines and tension headaches (Anheyer, 2019).
How to start practicing yoga
Yoga may look intimidating if you’ve never practiced it before. Don’t worry, you don’t have to start with handstands or complicated pretzel-like poses. You can get started with beginner routines or just practicing a few poses.
At first, it may be easier to practice yoga led by a yoga teacher. There are options to watch videos online, or you could consider going in person. Attending yoga classes helps you follow a routine without having to decide on poses yourself and provides cues to direct your movements.
If you’re struggling, it may be helpful to go to a live class a few times so a yoga teacher can guide you through poses and help correct your form. If you prefer to stay home for yoga, you could line up a mirror so you can check your form yourself. Remember to be patient. It takes time to learn anything new. With practice, your form will improve, and you’ll start to see the benefits of yoga in your life.