What are the mental benefits of yoga?

What are the mental benefits of yoga?

Curious about the mental benefits of yoga? Yoga can help relieve stress, reduce anxiety, and even help you sleep better.

Disclaimer: This information is meant simply for educational purposes and should not be mistaken for medical advice. 

Do you practice yoga? 

When I was just starting my recovery from disordered eating, a friend introduced me to yoga. And it was the first time that I thought about yoga as a way to heal and calm, rather than simply to burn calories and strengthen abs. 

In the 10 years since, yoga has become my go-to stress-buster. Whether it’s treating myself to an actual class or simply setting up a yoga mat in a spare room, I try to fit in at least 20 minutes of yoga once or twice a week. 

If you’ve been wondering whether yoga could help you manage stress and anxiety, or sleep better at night, I did a dive into current research on the potential benefits of yoga.

Yoga can relieve stress and anxiety.

Cortisol is our primary stress hormone.

And while it’s important to have natural rises in cortisol levels throughout the day, chronically elevated levels due to stress can have consequences on your health, such as: 

  • Weight gain.
  • Bad mood.
  • Reduced energy.
  • Increased inflammation.
  • Disrupt sleep.
  • Increase blood pressure levels.

And yoga has been shown to help manage cortisol levels (1, 2, 3). 

In one study of 24 women, practicing yoga twice a week for 3 months was found to significantly lower cortisol levels immediately after the class. The women also reported a significant reduction in perceived stress levels over the 3 months. 

Another study of 52 women in their 30’s found that practicing yoga regularly helped reduce their perceived levels of depression, anxiety, and stress (4). 

Similarly, a study of 131 adults with mild anxiety in Australia found that practicing yoga for 1 hour per week resulted in significant improvements in anxiety, stress, and quality of life after 10 weeks (5).

Feel burnout from work?

A review of healthcare workers found that regularly practicing yoga significantly reduced stress levels and even increased feelings of empathy and self-care practices (6).  

So why is this?

While there are likely multiple things at play, one hypothesis is that yoga can stimulate the production of several neurotransmitters and hormones, including GABA, serotonin, and dopamine, all of which play a role in anxiety, depression, and relaxation (7, 8).

Yoga may help you sleep better.

Yoga may also improve sleep quality, possibly by increasing levels of melatonin — a hormone that’s key for regulating our sleep cycle (9, 10, 11, 12). 

One study of 30 healthy men in their 20’s and 30’s found that practicing some form of yoga daily for 3 months resulted in statistically significant increases in melatonin (13). 

Other populations that have found regular yoga practice to help improve duration and quality of sleep include: 

  • Older adults, including those diagnosed with insomnia (14, 15).
  • Women with osteoarthritis (16). 
  • Nurses (17).
  • Young and older adults with insomnia (18). 
  • Cancer patients (19). 

Curious to know more about ways to help with sleep? Check out my previous article here!

Overall quality of life can be improved.

Especially as we get older, yoga has been shown to help improve overall quality of life, as it can help with mood, sleep, and flexibility (20, 21). 

Yoga’s effects have also been studied in individuals who currently have or have survived cancer diagnosis (22). 

In particular, yoga has been found to help reduce symptoms such as pain and nausea, as well as improve relaxation in women undergoing treatment for breast cancer (23, 24). 

Of course, benefits of yoga are also physical

Yoga is good for both the mind and body.

Benefits for your physical health include: 

  • Improving flexibility and balance (25, 26, 27, 28). 
  • Expanding your lung capacity and improvements in breathing (in healthy adults as well as those with asthma) (26, 27, 28). 
  • Relieving chronic knee pain due to osteoarthritis (29, 30). 
  • May reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches (31, 32, 33).
  • Increase strength and endurance (34, 35, 36). 

How to start doing yoga at home

Okay, now that you’re convinced, let’s talk about ways to practice yoga for free at home.

My go-to is YouTube as it’s free and there are a bunch of different instructors that you can find to fit what works best for you. 

My go-to is Yoga with Adriene . She has a huge library of yoga videos, which range anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour. 

Plus, she does a lot of focused yoga practices that target common trouble areas of stress and tightness. I particularly like her yoga for writers.

I hope you found this helpful! And don’t forget that yoga is just one piece of the puzzle. Focusing on an anti-inflammatory diet is also key for keeping your stress and anxiety levels down. 

The information contained in this website is not intended to recommend the self-management of health problems or wellness. It is not intended to endorse or recommend any particular type of medical treatment. Should any reader have any healthcare-related questions, promptly call or consult your physician or healthcare provider. No information contained in this website should be used by any reader to disregard medical and/or health-related advice or provide a basis to delay a consultation with a physician or a qualified healthcare provider. The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products discussed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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About

I’m Kelli MS, RD. As a foodie with a background in nutrition research, I’m a firm believer that what we eat affects nearly every aspect of our wellbeing, and that food should taste freaking delicious.

Welcome to New Mind Nutrition!

My name is Kelli McGrane, and I’m a Denver-based registered dietitian with a Master’s degree in nutrition.

As a foodie with a background in nutrition research, I’m a firm believer that what we eat affects nearly every aspect of our wellbeing, and that food should taste freaking delicious.

My goal with New Mind is to help you find balance in both your mind and body through nutrition research and whole foods-based recipes.

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