In recent years, practicing yoga has skyrocketed in popularity as has the huge popularity of yoga retreats, and for good reason. As well as improving flexibility, toning muscles, and strengthening your core, yoga has astonishing benefits to your mental health as well. With the influx of modern technologies putting increased time pressure on so many aspects of our lives, taking some time out of your day to focus on self-care has never been more important.
Even if you are a super busy mum running your own business from home with very little time to spare, yoga is something that can be squeezed into your day with quick routines as short as 5 or 10 minutes and much longer if you have more time. Plus, it can be done anywhere with very little space and no need for any equipment. It’s a great stress buster and escapism from the stresses of motherhood and hectic-ness of work life.
In this blog post I’ll take a look at why yoga is so good for your mental health.
The health benefits
Anecdotal evidence from yoga practitioners all over the world suggests that practicing yoga has a profound impact on both their mental and physical health. By regulating your breathing, lowering blood pressure, and increasing heart rate variability, yoga is able to lessen and moderate the body’s stress response. It also reduces levels of cortisol in the brain, and creates a state of deep rest and relaxation, focusing on self-awareness and the link between body and mind.
There have been a vast number of scientific studies focusing on the health benefits of yoga, both physical and psychological, and the science fully backs up the hypothesis that it has a multitude of healing properties all through the body and brain.
Reducing anxiety and stress
A variety of sources suggest that yoga significantly reduces stress and boosts mood due to the chemicals it releases in the brain, specifically gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a chemical that helps to regulate nerve activity. GABA activity is typically low in people who are suffering from stress or anxiety disorders, and a single one-hour session of yoga has been shown to increase its levels by up to 27%.
A study carried out in 2017 in the USA by Brown University, the University of California, and the Eyes of the World Yoga Centre, demonstrated that weekly yoga classes could reduce symptoms of depression. Whilst not a wholly conclusive study, and only based on 10 weeks of classes, the follow-up research after six months showed a marked difference in QIDS scores (the system used to measure the severity of depression symptoms) between those who practiced yoga for the 10 week study and those who did not, suggesting that the mental health benefits of yoga could be accumulate over time.
Researchers have also used MRI scans to monitor brain volume, and have found that those who practice yoga regularly typically possess a larger hippocampus; the area of the brain responsible for reducing stress levels.
A complementary medicine
The many health benefits of yoga cannot be argued against, however, the NHS still recommends that those diagnosed with clinical depression, anxiety disorders, or other mental illnesses such as bipolar, schizophrenia, or PTSD, use yoga practice as a complementary exercise therapy to their therapists recommended treatment plan (such as counselling or anti-depressant medication), rather than as an alternative.
Whether you have a formal diagnosis or not, practicing yoga will almost certainly improve your health. But it’s important to also introduce other key aspects of wellness, such as meditation and mindfulness, in order to help you gain a full and rounded experience to enrich your general wellbeing and quality of life. There are a lot of instructional videos online (even for free), but classes or longer retreats with a professional instructor will ensure you are carrying out the poses correctly and safely in order to receive the full benefits of your practice.
Overall, if you are looking for a gentle exercise regime that will undeniably invigorate both your body and mind, Hatha yoga is an excellent starting point, with a whole range of poses to suit any level of fitness or flexibility. Other forms of yoga such as Iyengar or Bikram (hot yoga) are also options for more experienced practitioners or those seeking a more demanding physical challenge, and you may also find classes specifically geared towards helping pregnant women, or people with chronic physical or mental illnesses or disabilities.
There are even baby yoga and kids yoga classes available nowadays so the whole family can get involved to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.