Yoga is an exercise that involves breathing techniques and poses meant to balance and strengthen one’s body and mind. Currently, there are 15 million Americans who practice yoga on a regular basis. The growing interest in yoga can be attributed to its effect on a person’s mental state. Here are six ways yoga influences one’s psychological health.

1. Improves Memory and Concentration

Although strength and aerobic exercises are associated with improved heart rate, lower calories, and elevated mood, there has been little talk of their ability to improve memory. A study found that a single session of yoga was capable of improving your memory and concentration. Participants in this study performed better after a 20-minute yoga session than after 20 minutes of vigorous exercises.

2. Relieves Anxiety

While there are many physical exercises that alleviate stress, yoga is among the practices that has registered a high rate of success on this wise. Yoga controls anxiety and stress by lowering heart and breathing rates, reducing blood pressure, and improving heart rate variability.

Yoga helps you move from the “fight or flight” reaction, to a “rest and digest” reaction. It transports you from the “sympathetic nervous system” to the “parasympathetic nervous system”. Through deep breaths, you are able to slow down fight or flight reactions and relax your nervous system.

While many exercises are known to increase feel good neurotransmitters, yoga is recognized as a GABA booster. GABA stands for Gamma Aminobutyric Acid. This is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that puts a stop to brain activity to help you relax. Low GABA levels leave the brain fully active. Having low levels of GABA is comparable to driving a vehicle with a brick placed on the accelerator and no brakes. This condition can cause you to feel overwhelmed and anxious. A one hour yoga session can boost your GABA levels by up to 27%. When your GABA levels are high, you become less anxious and more relaxed.

3. Reduces Depression

Many studies have shown how yoga is beneficial for those struggling with depression. In one study, the subjects, who were people suffering from major depression, experienced elevated moods and low anxiety and anger after 20 yoga sessions. A similar study on subjects with mild depression concluded that yoga classes helped improve mood and reduce fatigue and anxiety.

The breathing and visualization exercises practiced in yoga result in more energy, alertness, and positive mood. The GABA levels that are increased by yoga sessions also help reduce the symptoms of depression. According to one study, engaging in yoga for 12 minutes every day for a period of eight weeks can reduce the symptoms of depression significantly.

Yoga has been further linked to high levels of BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor). This is a protein that can be likened to brain fertilizer. BDNF promotes the creation of brain cells and also has anti-depressant effects.

4. Helps You Get in Touch With Yourself

Yoga allows you to realize your shadow qualities. The light and dark concepts in yoga enable you to identify qualities in yourself that you did not see, helping you to be more mindful. This is achieved by looking at places in your body where you hold tightness, tension, and knots of energy. For example, a back bend will open up your heart and get rid of the stiffness between your shoulder blades. This will result in some kind of emotional release that you were not conscious of.

Another way yoga helps you get in touch with yourself is by causing you to develop a sense of self. By practicing yoga, you begin cultivating a more positive and non-judgmental attitude towards yourself. You begin to build self-trust. When your self-consciousness improves, you begin to eat healthier and exercise more because your sub-conscious mind is telling you that you are worthy of these efforts. As a result you become more confident and are more invested in yourself and develop a balanced ego.

5. Protection Against Brain Ageing

Many people have sought to find the cure for ageing but all in vain. However, aging can be slowed down. Research shows that yoga can protect your brain from shrinking, an occurrence that arises with age. Through the aid of magnetic resonance imaging, experts found a link between yoga and high brain volume.

Older yoga practitioners were seen to have larger brain volumes similar to those of younger people. The preservation of brain volume was mainly in the parts of the brain that affect positive emotions and relaxation response.

6. Relieves Psychiatric Disorders

Numerous studies have confirmed the positive impact of yoga on psychiatric disorders. According to a study published in the “Journal of Psychiatric Practice“, yoga can be effective in managing the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Harvard Mental Health Newsletter has also made some observations on the amazing power of yoga over various mental disorders. In one study involving patients with major depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, it was found that the patients experienced a significant reduction of tension, anger, fatigue, hostility, depression, and anxiety after a yoga session.

Another study was conducted on veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The veterans took antidepressants and over-indulged in alcohol. After a five day yoga program, the symptoms of PTSD reduce from moderate to severe class, to the mild to moderate class.

In a related study, a group of women with severe emotional distress were subjected to yoga classes twice a week. After three months, the women showed remarkable improvements in anxiety, depression, fatigue, energy, sleep quality, perceived stress, and well being.

The Take Away

Although yoga is an ancient practice, it is not until recently that people started to discover its impact on health. Yoga, like other exercises, has been recommended for weight loss, flexibility, and fitness. When it comes to relieving trauma in different joints in the body, yoga is one of the practices that come highly recommended. The same is true for mental health. Yoga has proven effective in alleviating depression, anxiety, and psychiatric disorders that had been formerly limited to prescription medicine and psychiatric treatments. According to the American Psychological Association, the positive effects of yoga on mental health have made it an indispensable tool in psychotherapy.

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