If you’ve ever met someone who practices yoga, you might notice that they have a certain aura to them that’s just different from most people.
That’s probably because yogis are 20% more likely to have a better awareness of their own physical and mental health, according to Harvard Medical School. They also have a stronger sense of mental clarity, physical fitness, flexibility, and strength.
A majority of Americans believe that yoga is good for you, especially when it comes to physical benefits. But did you know that yoga can also have positive outcomes on your mental health?
Yoga may be seen as the newest physical fitness trend, but yoga is so much more than just exercise—it’s a practice that’s supposed to help improve your overall quality of life. And not just by improving your physical health, but by benefiting your mental health as well.
But are these benefits really from practicing yoga or are they just placebo effects? How true is it that yoga can benefit our mental health? If you want to know more about the psychological benefits of practicing yoga, keep reading. We’re going to cover everything you need to know!
Yoga and Psychology
Yoga is guided by several life principles namely:
- Niyama (self-discipline)
- Yama (moral code)
- Asana (postures or poses)
- Pranayama (mindfulness of breathing)
- Pratyahara (detachment from senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation or positive, mindful focus on the present)
- Savasana (state of rest)
- Samadhi (ecstasy)
These principles have guided yoga for thousands of years and are still the basis of most yoga practices today. If you’ve practiced yoga before, particularly more traditional styles of yoga such as Ashtanga, you’ve probably heard a few of these Sanskrit words.
There are certain yoga poses named after these life principles to serve as a reminder that yoga is not just about the physical benefits. It’s a very psychological, spiritual, and emotional experience as well. Authentic yoga practice is all about introspection and helping you build awareness between your mind and body.
The life principles used in yoga are very similar to positive psychology. Positive psychology and yoga are both about improving a person’s well-being by helping them increase their mindfulness. It is said that being more mindful actually stops one from abusing their own body. It can result in increased self-satisfaction. But what are the specific mental health benefits of yoga?
The Mental Health Benefits of Practicing Yoga
Now that we’ve discussed the relationship between yoga and psychology, let’s look at what current research has to say about yoga and its mental health benefits.
Improves Mood and Energy
Generally, any physical activity can help boost one’s mood and energy 1. Although yoga is relatively slow-paced compared to other forms of exercise such as jogging or dancing, it can still get our heart rates up.
This helps to release the four main “feel-good” chemicals in our brains: dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin. These chemicals are related to the reward system in our brain. They also help to inhibit pain which results in that “exercise high” we all love and crave.
Eases Symptoms Of Depression
Depression is often caused by low levels of dopamine and serotonin in our brains. Low levels of serotonin, in particular, were linked to a higher risk of suicide 2. Yoga’s ability to ease depression is very much related to its ability to release the four happy chemicals we mentioned before 3.
A study conducted in 2017 even stated that the effects of practicing yoga on those with major depressive disorder are comparable to that of antidepressant medication 4. Of course, this doesn’t mean that anyone with depression should stop taking their medication and start practicing yoga instead.
Yoga is not a cure for depression. Rather, it helps to ease the symptoms. Medication is still generally regarded as the best approach if you have been diagnosed with depression. With that said, you’ll unlock some pretty powerful effects by combining your medication with other aspects of a mental health regimen – including yoga.
Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Yoga has also been proven by several studies to help reduce stress and anxiety. This is mainly due to its ability to reduce cortisol in our brains—also known as our primary stress hormone. It can also help lower our heart rates and blood pressure 5.
One study in 2013 evaluated the effects of a 10-week yoga course in a prison population. Results found that yoga helped increase the self-reported positive effects, reduce stress, and even improve the performance of the participants in cognitive-behavioral tasks 6.
Another study showed that yoga’s ability to increase mindfulness and relaxation through deep breathing exercises helped ease symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD 7. Again, yoga is not a cure for anxiety disorders or PTSD. But, it is used by psychiatrists as a supplement to other forms of therapy.
Helps You Get Better Sleep
Practicing yoga is said to help improve sleep quality, particularly in older adults that suffer from insomnia. A study conducted in 2014 found that older adults that practiced yoga were able to improve their sleep quality and overall quality of life as compared to those that didn’t practice yoga 8.
You don’t even have to do an entire sequence to get better sleep from yoga. We actually advise against this, as doing high levels of activity before bed actually leads to poor sleep quality. It’s best to avoid anything that might get your heart rate up.
That said, there are several types of low-intensity yoga practices. Practice gentle yoga styles such as Hatha or Nidra that focus on relaxation and meditation. Just doing certain static poses and postures in yoga is enough to help you get better sleep quality. John Hopkins Medicine suggests the butterfly pose and corpse pose. Doing these poses while focusing on rhythmic breathing can help you fall asleep and increase sleep quality.
Fights Chronic Pain (Which Can Result In Poor Mental Health)
Chronic pain affects millions of people. It’s not only physically debilitating, it tends to weigh on the mental health of those affected by it as well. Fortunately, studies have shown that practicing yoga does help to reduce chronic pain of all forms, whether caused by injury or certain diseases.
Studies have shown that yoga particularly improved the overall well-being of those suffering from chronic lower back pain and arthritis.
A study comparing the benefits of yoga versus a self-care book for chronic low back pain found that yoga was better at improving function and reducing lower back pain 9. It also helped improve the grip strength and reduced the pain of those suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome 10. And it is also proven to reduce knee pain from osteoarthritis 11.
People suffering from chronic pain tend to end up with depression and anxiety due to their conditions. So by improving their physical health you have a better chance of improving their mental health as well.
Aside from stress and anxiety reduction, yoga has also been proven to help control one’s anger issues. A study in 2008 comparing those who practiced yoga and those that did normal PE found that adults that attended the yoga classes had decreased verbal aggression 12.
Some forms of therapy actually make use of yoga modules in various anger management programs and it has been proven to be an effective method especially for adolescents 13. These yoga modules are based on several anger management techniques based on traditional Indian texts—the life principles that we mentioned early on in the article (Nyama, Yama, Asana, Pranayama, and so on).
How To Practice Yoga for Mental Health
All yoga styles can provide the mental health benefits mentioned above. If you are curious to try yoga as a form of complementary therapies it’s always best to do start practicing with a yoga teacher.
Try to join group yoga classes before practicing yoga on your own. Any physical activity can have negative effects if not done properly and may lead to injuries.
People tend to underestimate yoga on their first try. They think it’s just light stretching along with holding weird poses for extended periods.
Depending on the type of yoga you choose to practice, that might actually end up being the case. But other styles can actually be very challenging, especially if you end up in a yoga class that isn’t for beginners.
The Best Types Of Yoga For Mental Health
If you aren’t sure where to start here are the different types of yoga that are great for beginners:
- Hatha Yoga: the most common style of yoga in the United States. A style that focuses on holding postures and poses together with rhythmic breathing exercises.
- Restorative Yoga: all about meditation and relaxation. It’s a very prop-based practice so you will need to use yoga blocks and maybe even straps. Great if you need to destress after a long day. Friendly for those with injuries and chronic pain.
- Yin Yoga: lots of stretching and lengthening of the body. Poses are held for as long as 3 to 5 minutes. Plenty of time for you to be left alone with your thoughts and do some introspecting.
- Flow & Restore Classes: a little bit more dynamic than the rest of the styles in this list, but still pretty light. You will sweat but it’s meant to give you a nice deep stretch while helping you relax and loosen your body and mind.
- Iyengar Yoga: this practice focuses on alignment and stillness. An alignment yoga mat would be extremely helpful for this practice because the lines are meant to guide your body as you practice. Also very prop-based so you might need a yoga block. Very friendly for those with injuries. Iyengar yoga instructors tend to know a lot about anatomy so you’re sure to have a safe yoga practice.
Once you’re more familiar with yoga you can move on to different styles. Or you can continue practicing the yoga styles you already know at home. There are plenty of yoga instructors on YouTube, you can also opt to buy DVDs or instructional books.
Where Can You Get The Best Yoga Essentials?
Every yoga journey starts with getting a yoga mat. Don’t settle for cheap synthetic rubber mats as most beginner yogis do. Start your practice on the right foot with only the best yoga mat from Pureful Yoga!
Pureful Yoga The #1 Store For All Yoga Essentials
Pureful Yoga sells 100% organic, eco-friendly, and sustainable yoga essentials made from cork. We have everything you’ll need to start your yoga practice from cork yoga mats to cork yoga mat bags.
You’re probably wondering why cork? Cork has multiple benefits. Not only is it completely renewable and recyclable, but it also has antimicrobial and anti-slip properties that are essential characteristics in all yoga mats and other props.
Its antimicrobial properties basically make it self-cleaning so you won’t have to clean your mat for weeks and it’ll still stay fresh and clean. Stickiness or the anti-slip properties of a mat is also very important.
A lot of yogis find it really hard to focus inwards during their practice if their mats aren’t sticky. Instead of focusing on their mind-body awareness, they focus on trying not to fall.
If you really want to have a relaxing practice you need a mat that allows you to confidently do your poses without worrying about slipping and falling all over the place.
That is why you need a yoga mat with great grip and our cork yoga mats have an unmatched grip! In fact, when it comes to cork, the sweatier you get the more sticky the grip becomes, making it the perfect material for a yoga mat.
Want to know more about why cork mats are the best? You can learn more about why you should use a cork yoga mat on our blog.