Yoga has quickly gained popularity among many people who have fallen in love with the practice. People who regularly practice yoga will likely talk about the benefits they receive from their practice, like increased flexibility and strength. These people may also talk about the psychological benefits they feel with yoga in their lives — and this is where the real magic is.

Yoga is a great physical exercise, but it also has benefits for the mind and soul. Those suffering from mental illness may find comfort in adopting a yoga practice and might find that a regular practice, along with their other treatment, improves their feelings and mood overall.

Physical Benefits of Yoga

Aside from flexibility and strength building, there are some physical benefits of yoga that actually help calm and regulate the stress response of our bodies. Those suffering from anxiety might deal with high blood pressure and increased heart rate during times of perceived stress.

Yoga regulates stress response systems by lowering blood pressure, reducing heart rate and increasing heart rate variability, which allows the body to respond to stress in healthier ways. These physical benefits are great for anybody, but for those who suffer with anxiety or excessive perceived stress, these benefits can be life-changing.

Your Brain on Yoga

It’s pretty widely accepted at this point that mental illnesses stem from chemicals in the brain being off balance. The stigma around mental illness is still very real, but more people are understanding mental illness is something physical and not just made up in somebody’s head.

With this logic, yoga can also provide relief. Yoga practice is known to boost serotonin levels, decrease the level of stress hormones, produce a healthy balance of lipids in the brain and reduce inflammation in the brain. All of these effects combine to reduce stress and depression one practice at a time.

Learning How to Breathe in Yoga

You’re right — you shouldn’t have to learn how to breathe. You’ve been doing that forever. However, yoga practice offers a type of breath that most people aren’t really used to. The center of every single yoga practice is the breath. You will constantly be asked to bring your attention back to your breath, ensuring you are inhaling fully and exhaling completely.

Unlike other high-intensity exercises, yoga is meant to slow down your breath instead of speed it up. This type of breathing calms you down during the practice itself, but it is also a tool you can take off the mat and use it in times of stress. Learning how to use these breathing exercises can help ward off panic attacks and anxiety. Simply breathing and focusing on the breath is also what meditation is built on — another practice that is often used to combat mental illnesses.

Preventing Mental Illnesses

In addition to being used as a way to overcome mental illness, yoga can also be used to prevent it, especially in children and teenagers. According to a study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, students who took yoga classes throughout school showed better overall moods, lower levels of anxiety and depression as well as better anger control when compared to their schoolmates who did not take these yoga classes.

It’s not hard to believe that practicing yoga, breathing and mindfulness can help young people in dramatic ways at a time in their life when everything seems to be changing and causing tensions. One out of every five young adults experiences some type of mental illness. Yoga practice can provide a healthy release for all of the tension and stress that has built up and prevent the negative feelings from going any farther.

Yoga and overcoming Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Yoga’s role in calming PTSD has been a large area of focus lately, with many people wondering what kinds of benefits yoga can have on veterans or others who have been through intense experiences. One study showed significant improvement of PTSD symptoms in people who participated in yoga classes for ten weeks when compared to the control group, which showed no improvement.

Because of studies like this, many veteran centers around the country have adopted regular yoga practice into what they offer veterans. Yoga practice can also help improve the sleep of those affected by PTSD, which is a huge win for those people who have a hard time sleeping and getting through the day.

Improving Mindfulness

The ability to go through a day with mindfulness can be the change that somebody suffering from depression or anxiety needs. Being able to identify feelings as they arise and be present in each moment of the day can truly be life-changing. With certain techniques for mindfulness and meditation, people can learn how to calm themselves down and change their ways of thinking.

This approach takes a lot of work and should be led by a professional, but with the right amount of commitment, it can work wonders. A regular yoga practice promotes mindfulness and being one with body and spirit. Some people might laugh at this idea, but connecting to yourself is a big step in overcoming mental illness. To heal, you must first know where the problem begins. Mindfulness can help with this step.

Incorporating a yoga practice into daily life has amazing benefits that are well worth the hour spent on the mat. If you are suffering from a mental illness or know somebody who is, speak with your doctor about how yoga can help you. Yoga may not be able to replace medication or completely cure you, but it definitely has a place in the treatment of mental illnesses.