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The Benefits of Yoga as Mental Health Therapy 

benefits of yoga and meditation on mental health

It’s estimated that close to one in 10 Americans regularly practice yoga to enhance their health and wellness. Yoga has been found to improve flexibility, balance, fitness, and overall quality of life. However, yoga also has a range of mental health benefits, including the ability to reduce stress, anxiety, and pain. 

As such, yoga is increasingly being adopted as a complementary method of mental health therapy, mitigating symptoms of disorders like anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADHD, schizophrenia, and more. Below we explore the benefits of yoga on mental health, and how it’s being used in treatment programs today. 

What is Yoga? 

Yoga is a holistic practice originating from ancient India that combines physical fitness, breath control, and meditation to promote overall health and wellbeing. Yoga is known for its mind-body connection, as it incorporates both physical activity and spiritual discipline to harmonize the body and brain. Of those who practice yoga, many report feelings of inner peace, unity, and balance deriving from this exercise. 

The benefits of yoga are wide and vast. Physically, those who practice yoga will see an improvement in their strength, balance, flexibility, and functional fitness. They also report an array of cognitive and mental health benefits, including improved concentration and reduced stress or anxiety. 

Yoga can be practiced by people of all ages and fitness levels. This adaptability makes yoga an accessible activity for individuals with physical limitations or health conditions. Due to its mental health benefits, yoga can also be a valuable tool for those in recovery from mental illness and substance use disorders. 

What are the Benefits of Yoga on Mental Health? 

According to Harvard research, people who practice yoga are 20 percent more likely to have a positive perception of their own physical and mental health, including a strong sense of mental clarity. Below are some of the most common mental health benefits of yoga: 

  • Stress Reduction:  

Yoga encourages relaxation through deep breathing, meditation, and mindful movement. This can help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and promote a sense of calm and well-being. 

  • Anxiety Relief:  

The practice of yoga has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety by boosting relaxation, fostering new coping strategies, and promoting a sense of inner peace and self-awareness. 

  • Improved Mood:  

Yoga can help to elevate mood by increasing one’s levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which are associated with feelings of happiness and well-being. The combination of physical movement, breath awareness, and meditation can also lift spirits and promote a positive outlook during and after practice. 

  • Enhanced Emotional Regulation:  

Yoga teaches individuals to observe their thoughts and emotions in the present, without judgment or negativity. This helps to foster greater emotional resilience and lends people the ability to respond to challenging situations with clarity. 

  • Mindfulness and Presence:  

In addition to the above, yoga cultivates present-moment awareness through the practice of mindfulness. It encourages individuals to focus on the here and now, offering a retreat from the bustle (and pressures) of day-to-day life. This opportunity can reduce rumination on the past, mitigate worries about the future, and allow for greater peace of mind. 

  • Better Sleep: 

Yoga helps to promote better sleep by reducing stress, calming the nervous system, and releasing tension from the body. Practices such as gentle stretches, restorative poses, and relaxing, breathing techniques can improve sleep quality at night. 

  • Increased Self-Acceptance:  

Yoga encourages self-care, self-acceptance, and self-awareness without judgment. It lends way for self-compassion and self-love, which in turn leads to greater feelings of kindness and empathy for others. 

  • Connection and Community:  

Participating in group yoga classes has an indirect benefit, too: it helps to foster a sense of connection, support, and belonging within a community of like-minded individuals. This social aspect of yoga can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, promoting overall mental wellbeing. 

  • Cognitive Benefits:  

On top of the above mental health benefits, yoga has been linked to improved cognitive function in the brain. This includes enhanced memory retention, concentration, and problem-solving skills. Regular yoga practice may also reduce the risk of cognitive decline (and conditions like dementia) for aging individuals. 

Anyone can take advantage of the power of yoga to improve their mental health. However, for those struggling with mental health disorders, yoga can be especially influential in reducing stress, managing depression, easing anxiety, and developing coping tactics to alleviate the difficult symptoms of other mental illnesses. The breathing, connective, and mindfulness practices that occur in yoga help to ground individuals in the present and improve their ability to regulate emotions, handle difficult situations, and apply more self-control in moments of need. As such, yoga has been found to support the treatment of: 

  • Anxiety disorders 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 
  • Depression 
  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Eating disorders 
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) 
  • Schizophrenia 
  • Substance use disorders 

According to nationally-cited research, “Adding yoga to traditional treatment for mental health issues may be beneficial. Many of the studies on yoga included meditation as an integral part of their methodology. Meditation and other forms of focused mental practice may set off a physiological reaction known as the relaxation response… [which] has been shown to have far-reaching physiological effects, including changes in attention and autonomic nervous system modulation. Left anterior brain activity, which is associated with happiness, was shown to rise considerably during meditation.” 

Outside of viewing yoga as mental health therapy, yoga can also be seen as a tool for building healthy relationships. In treatment, a healthy and supportive network of peers is monumental for a person’s recovery. Yoga can help bring people together and offer a sense of social support through yoga classes or group sessions. For those struggling with disorders like depression, a yoga community can create a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation or loneliness. 

Yoga as Mental Health Therapy 

Yoga and mindfulness practices, more broadly, can be valuable, complementary therapies for mental illness. Studies support the concept of using yoga as an adjunct in the treatment of mental illness, due to the benefits it can have on cognitive function and overall mental health.  

However, it’s important for individuals to work with healthcare professionals to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses their own, unique needs and circumstances. Yoga should not replace conventional medical treatment but rather, serve as a beneficial, complementary therapy that supports overall health and wellbeing. 

At Turnbridge, mindfulness practices and yoga exercises are integrated into our mental health treatment plans. Offered as a recreational option for young women and men in treatment, yoga helps to promote self-care, self-acceptance, self-awareness, and self-sufficiency as clients work through the healing process. Most days, for example, our women’s program begins with yoga instruction and meditation. Our goal is to help foster peace of mind in each and every client, so that they can stay positive and engaged in their recovery. Learn more here. 

Start Your Healing Journey at Turnbridge 

Studies show that, on top of the many physical benefits, exercise can reduce stress and anxiety, alleviate symptoms of depression, and protect against mental illness. One recent exploration, published by the National Institute of Health, highlights how physical activity can improve cognitive function, minimize difficult emotions and symptoms, boost mood, and promote a higher quality of life in those battling a mental illness. Exercise, today, is often seen as mental health therapy—and yoga is no exception. 

If you are interested in learning how yoga can be applied to your recovery journey, or how Turnbridge emphasizes holistic activities like yoga in our mental health treatment programs, please do not hesitate to reach out to speak with a specialist. Call 877-581-1793 today.