I am sure that we can agree on the fact that life can be very stressful at times. We can become so focused on just getting through the actual days, weeks, and months, that we may not be paying much attention to our mental health. BUT mental health is incredibly important, so we are going to dive into ways that yoga can benefit mental health and relieve stress. Yoga is a versatile activity that has been found to have both physical and psychological benefits and research is unlocking more ways that yoga can benefit us.
Yoga has been found to help you physically by improving fitness such as strength, flexibility, and even your lung capacity (Novotney, 2009). Although yoga practice does not traditionally entail the use of weights or resistance bands, yoga postures, stretches, and static holds involve the stabilization and use of all the major muscle groups. Gothe et al. (2015) determined that regular yoga practice was just as effective as a traditional program of strength and flexibility exercise in improving strength, flexibility, mobility, and balance in an older population. How is this possible? Holding a pose like “down dog” over an extended length of time, involves supporting one’s body weight on the upper and lower body, recruiting muscles such as the trapezius, triceps, glutes, and hamstrings, leading to improvements in muscular strength. Muscular flexibility and mobility are also improved during these postural holds due to the muscles being extended and stretched for the duration of each pose. While strength, flexibility, and mobility are key components in the life of all humans, so is balance. Balance is improved during yoga due to the positioning of the feet in comparison to the body’s center of gravity. Many yoga poses involve the feet being in line with each other or the individual standing on one foot, which puts your balance to the test. Yoga is more than adequate in strengthening and improving our physical fitness in a variety of ways, so if weight lifting is not your thing, then give yoga a try!
Just being involved in physical activity has been shown to reduce stress due to certain hormone reduction and production. While participating in physical activity your body actually reduces the amount of stress hormones coursing through the body such as adrenaline and cortisol. These are the hormones in your body that, when elevated, cause the individual to become stressed out - feeling anxious/irritable or have difficulty concentrating. Exercise also stimulates the production of endorphins, these are the body’s natural pain killers (Harvard, 2011). Endorphins are often known to be the mood boosters and allows individuals to experience something we all call the “runner’s high”. The runner’s high is a feeling of accomplishment and success/growth that you obtain after a lengthy or intense workout – a natural mood enhancer!
Improves Psychological Profile:
Why do people use yoga as a mental health tool in addition to the physical movement aspect? Regular yoga practice can be used as a positive health tool to help relieve symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression. Research has shown that participating in only 12 yoga sessions can improve depression, anxiety, and stress in women (Shohani, 2018). Yoga has the ability to relax and put the mind at ease when the body and mind come together in meditation practice. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is our central stress response system and when activated, it releases hormones that trigger stress. When you are under stress, physical or mental, corticotropin-releasing hormone is secreted from the hypothalamus which causes the secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone from the pituitary gland which travels to the adrenal glands and triggers the secretion of cortisol (Alschuler, 2019). Elevated levels of cortisol cause the heart rate to increase along with your blood pressure causing the well-known “fight or flight” response (Premier, 2017). There is evidence that supports the theory that yoga benefits physical and mental health by the down-regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the sympathetic nervous system (Hagen, 2014). Yoga has been found to improve mental health by reducing everyday stress, mitigating emotional and behavioral problems, as well as providing a natural coping mechanism for the stressful situations’ life throws our way.
Reduction in Medical Costs:
One benefit of yoga you may not have even considered is the reduction in medical costs. It is not uncommon to turn to doctors and medicine to aid in the relief of stress, anxiety, depression, or physical pain. And while the solution at times is medicine, this does not come without the possibility of adverse effects of drugs and in some cases lack of effectiveness, as well as high cost. Many health care providers and society as a whole have concluded that yoga can be used as a complimentary medicine which has the ability to reduce the medical cost per treatment due to decreased drug assistance for these issues (Shohani, 2018).
Yoga can be practiced as a cost-effective means of helping to manage both physical and mental health issues. This form of exercise relaxes the mind while creating that mind and body synchronization to help relieve any negative psychological stressors you may have. Your physical fitness will improve in a variety of ways and this comes at little to no cost for the individual beginning their yoga adventure. So, get on out and improve your health as a whole person! Join Julie during her livestream yoga classes to get all of these benefits and more!
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Jessica Rury has her Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology, with a Fitness emphasis. She looks forward to sharing her creative take on fitness and staying healthy while having fun at the same time!