Most everyone has heard about the physical health benefits that come from practicing yoga – from increased flexibility, to relief from chronic pain, to improved strength, muscle tone, and balance. But more and more research is concluding what the ancient yogis and modern practitioners have already come to understand firsthand: that yoga can also have profound psychological and cognitive benefits as well. While yoga can do wonders for the body, the more profound power of the practice comes from its effect on your emotions and your mind.
1. Yoga offers stress relief
Stress seems to surround us in contemporary life. Many of us are continuously facing time constraints, financial pressures, and growing responsibilities at work and at home. These ongoing challenges can permeates our lives and drain our vitality. Repeated studies have shown that the physical postures of yoga – combined with breathing techniques and meditation – reduce tension, encourage relaxation, and lead to a greater sense of calm and equanimity.
2. Alleviating anxiety and depression with yoga
Yoga’s ability to help our bodies relax can help our minds to relax as well. As physical tension is replaced with a sense of strength and balance, a parallel change often occurs in our mental state. Yoga helps to drop blood pressure and reduce the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine, significantly reducing anxiety. Yoga and meditation can help us to boost our moods, focus on the present moment, and reframe negative thought patterns that leave us stuck in a rut.
3. Regular yoga practice can boost memory and improve concentration
Our busy, hectic lives often find us juggling too many tasks at once. This can leave us feeling distracted and scattered as we try to complete our growing to-do lists while balancing our work and family commitments. With so many items vying for our attention – often at the same time – it can be difficult to concentrate on a given task for an extended period and sometimes even to remember everything that we were supposed to do.
A growing body of research has shown that yoga can be an effective tool for improving concentration and enhancing memory as well. Dharana, or the practice of concentration, is the perfect remedy for a cluttered mind and stressed senses; it enables you to remove the “noise” from your thoughts and focus your mind, helping you to remember things more clearly, concentrate better, and give you greater overall clarity of thought. New studies also indicate that regular yoga practice can help to head off symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia, aiding the brain in forming new connections and recovering lost cognitive abilities.
4. Yoga can reduce the effects of PTSD
Yoga has also been found to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Severely traumatic events often leave deep and lasting scars that are both physical and emotional. Therapeutic yoga can serve as a treatment bridge to increase a sense of awareness, safety, and control while also giving victims a new sense of perspective on their traumas and assisting in the recovery process. Yoga can be a potent tool for alleviating the wounds of profound trauma, which can lead to a renewed sense of empowerment that expedites healing.
5. Adolescent psychological disorders may be prevented through practicing yoga
Being a teenager can be tough. It’s a transitional stage of life as adolescents shift from being a child to becoming an adult. Hormones are raging, the process of individuation is beginning, and teens are more aware of the world beyond their homes and the challenges that await them. Combine this with feeling added pressure at school – both academic and social – as well as increased responsibilities at home, and it can be a volatile stage of life.
Mood swings, acting out, and withdrawal can all be problems for today’s teens and create friction with parents, siblings, and teachers. Preliminary evidence from a Harvard Medical School study indicates that yoga can be helpful in reducing behavioral problems among high school students. In the study, half of the class practiced Kripalu Yoga – which centers around physical postures, breathing, relaxation, and meditation – while the other half took a regular physical education (PE) class instead. Those students who took part in the yoga sessions displayed better moods in general, along with lower anxiety levels and improved ability to control anger. Since adolescence is such an important time for the development of mental health, including learning healthy coping strategies for stress, the benefits have the potential to extend into adult life as well.
So while many people are touting the physical benefits that come from a regular yoga practice, it’s clear that yoga can enhance our lives in ways that are much more profound that just changing our bodies. Yoga affects our mental and emotional states in many positive ways: relieving stress, decreasing depression, increasing focus and clarity, and helping to work through troubling emotions. Each passing day and each new scientific study reveal increasing evidence of the positive benefits that yoga can bring to our daily lives.