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The Psychological Benefits of Yoga

The Psychological Benefits of Yoga

We all know that practicing yoga can have great physical health benefits, but it can also benefit your psychological and mental health state. There’s no denying the high that you get after a successful yoga class or practice, and that zen-like state of feeling calm, grounded and centered. Yoga is a great practice if you’ve been feeling down, negative, or scattered with your thoughts. Practicing yoga has a way of subsiding those negative emotions, bringing you into a state of calm and peace.

Yoga also helps you feel a connection to your body, and helps you become more aware of any thoughts, emotions and physical feelings around your mind and body. This sensation of mindfulness can help improve our emotional health, and lead into a calm state. The psychological benefits of yoga have lead to the practice being regarded as a great practice for those suffering from stress, anxiety, and other mental health problems.

Yoga changes your brain.

There’s been many studies into how practicing yoga and meditation can help to improve brain function, the most noteworthy published in 2007 by Chris Streeter. This study looked into the link between practicing yoga and GABA - a chemical that helps reduce stress in your brain. The results showed that yoga practitioners who did one hour of yoga showed increases in this chemical, and noticeably more compared to walking exercises.

The GABA chemical works by inhibiting certain brain signals, leaving your mind more free. It also inhibits fear and wandering thoughts that suffers from anxiety may be all too familiar with. Low GABA levels are prevalent in people suffering from anxiety, depression, or stress. By practicing yoga and releasing the GABA chemical, you can quell these fears and help your mind feel more peaceful.

Yoga also has an impact on our prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is linked to planning, expression of personality, decision making and social behaviours. These are our executive functions, and helps our ability in working towards goals, suppress urges, differentiate our conflicting thoughts and predict consequences of actions. A strong prefrontal cortex means we are adept in these psychological functions.

The way the brain works during yoga practice - starting and stopping movements, and planning moving our bodies from one post to another in a mindful way - can potentially stimulate our prefrontal cortex and make it stronger.

Practicing yoga also changes the patterns of nerves and chemicals to activate a relaxation response. Simply concentrating on the alignment of a pose and breathing deeply to hold it can help shift your body’s state from tense to relaxed. Breathing deeply to relax into a pose can lower the brain’s fear and threat response levels, slowing the production of chemicals such as adrenaline, letting your body reach a state of biochemical relaxation.

Now we know how yoga can change your brain, there are a number of benefits this state of relaxation and brain chemistry changes can bring. 

5 psychological benefits of yoga include:

1. Stress and Anxiety Relief

One of the major benefits of the way yoga changes the brain is the relief of stress and anxiety. These conditions can take a huge toll on you, not  just mentally but also physically, and could lead to high blood pressure if gone unchecked.

2. Yoga Increases Concentration

Yoga techniques can help to stimulate the brain and nervous system, improving your brain function. It stands to reason that practicing yoga can improve your concentration  levels and help you focus, as well as processing information more efficiently.

3. Yoga Boosts your Mood

Similarly to other forms of exercise, yoga gives you a big endorphin boost, improving your mood and helping with issues such as depression.

4. Helps Mindfulness

Focusing on the present, without judgement, is what mindfulness is all about. Yoga helps you to focus on the now, and connect with both your mind and body. Mindfulness is a extremely useful meditation technique that helps you stay in tune with your emotions, and reduces your stress levels.

5. Helps Improve Symptoms of Mental Health problems

Yoga can help improve symptoms of many mental health issues. Yoga practice reduces the levels of stress responses, with can lead to lower levels of depression, as well as utilising controlled breathing, which can provide relief from depression.

Yoga can also improve symptoms of sleeping disorders, due to it’s stress-reduction, breathing and relaxation techniques. Research is also going into the ways yoga can be effective in more chronic disorders, such as schizophrenia and PTSD.

Are you interested in reaping the psychological benefits of practicing yoga? Our series this week focuses on the Yoga Sutras and yoga philosophy, a mixture of lectures, practices and techniques to help understand how yoga can fulfil your daily life, from Bhavani Maki

By Amy Cavill

Explore Yoga's Psychological Benefits deeper in one of Bhavani's Maki's talks, right now:

How Yoga Works: The Patanjali Yoga Sutra

The Patanjali Yoga Sutra: The 5 Thought Processes

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