Yoga is something that I really enjoy, and try to practice at least 3 times a week. As well as doing something which challenges me physically, I have found that yoga has been so useful for my mind. It helps me to switch off, something which I can find quite difficult, and I definitely feel more relaxed afterwards. I wanted to write this post to explore what other benefits yoga can have for mental health and wellbeing.
Several studies have explored the impact of yoga on stress reduction in an otherwise health population. Some of these findings were synthesised in a recent systematic review by Sharma (2014). This review found that although some of the included studies were of poor quality, there is sufficient evidence to show that yoga has benefits for reducing stress in a variety of settings and populations. Another systematic review has explored why yoga can help to reduce stress (Riley & Park, 2015). They examined different mechanisms by which yoga could reduce stress, both psychological (e.g. mindfulness, increased self-awareness) and physiological (lowering cortisol levels, decrease in stress biomarkers in brain activity), however concluded that there is currently not enough evidence to draw any firm conclusions.
Researchers have also explored whether yoga can have a positive impact for people with anxiety or depression. One study compared anxiety levels of women before and after completing two 90 minute yoga classes for two months, and compared these with a control group (Javnbakht et al 2009). They found that participants who took part in yoga classes showed a significant decrease in anxiety, compared to participants in the wait list group. A systematic review has explored the impact of yoga on depressive symptoms (Pilkington et al, 2005. Again, whilst the findings show a positive impact, the authors stress that the results should be interpreted with caution due a variability in study methods and quality.
Yoga can also have some benefits for physical health conditions, in particular helping to reduce pain (Büssing et al 2012). The authors hypothesise that this could be due to improved flexibility, calmness, and focusing the mind, which reduces anxiety. More research is needed to explore other potential benefits of yoga in physical health conditions.
Büssing, A., Michalsen, A., Khalsa, S.B.S., Telles, S. and Sherman, K.J., 2012. Effects of yoga on mental and physical health: a short summary of reviews. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012.
Javnbakht, M., Kenari, R.H. and Ghasemi, M., 2009. Effects of yoga on depression and anxiety of women. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 15(2), pp.102-104.
Pilkington, K., Kirkwood, G., Rampes, H. and Richardson, J., 2005. Yoga for depression: the research evidence. Journal of affective disorders, 89(1-3), pp.13-24.
Riley, K.E. and Park, C.L., 2015. How does yoga reduce stress? A systematic review of mechanisms of change and guide to future inquiry. Health psychology review, 9(3), pp.379-396.
Sharma, M., 2014. Yoga as an alternative and complementary approach for stress management: a systematic review. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 19(1), pp.59-67.
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