Mindfulness has long been practiced in many religions across the world. Buddhism, for example, places great importance on mindfulness-based meditation. In modern western society, yoga is increasingly becoming an important part of people’s everyday lives. According to one study done by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, more than 21 million adults and 1.7 million children practice yoga. This number has more than doubled since their last study in 2002 (Bränström, Kvillemo, & Moskowitz, 2011).
Yoga can be described as “a holistic system of multiple mind-body practices […] that include physical postures and exercises, breathing techniques, deep relaxation practices, cultivation of awareness/mindfulness, and meditation (Khalsa, Hickey-Schultz, Cohen, Steiner, & Cope, 2011). With so many individuals practicing yoga, it is imperative to research the benefits of this practice. As “mindfulness has recently been recognized to be beneficial for health and well-being” (de Castro, 2015), what are the benefits of practicing yoga on our mental health? In the following work, we will look at how yoga aids in the reduction of stress and depression and boosts an individual’s moods.
Yoga has many psychological benefits, one of them being the treatment of mental illnesses like depression. Currently, the most common treatment for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is antidepressant medication. Although antidepressant medication is most frequently used in the case of MDD, “as many as 30–50% of patients do not respond to medical treatment” (Baghai et al., 2006) and these medications may also come with many hindering side-effects (Kupfer et al., 2012) (as cited in Chen, Lv, Fang, 2015).
According to Jain et al. (2015) and Simkin and Black (2014), yoga or more specifically, meditation has been proven to be beneficial in the treatment of depression and other mental illness symptoms (Chen et al., 2015; de Castro, 2015). In one study performed by Kuyken et al. (2008), they found that the majority of patients who practiced mindfulness-based cognitive training or yoga were able to discontinue the use of antidepressant medications (Chen et al., 2015). Through basic research, we see that yoga can sometimes replace prescription medication for those affected by depression.
Yoga and Stress and Anxiety:
Another psychological benefit of yoga is its ability to reduce the effects of stress and anxiety. There is evidence that yoga and mindfulness-based training have mood-enhancing properties that reduce stress. Body-mind relaxation such as yoga and meditation has been shown “to be an important complementary therapy for both the treatment and prevention of many stress-related conditions” (Tang, 2011) (as cited in Chen et al., 2015). As it is an effective holistic therapy in the treatment of stress-related problems, many schools have implemented mindfulness-based training. According to a study done by Linden (1973), yoga and meditation reduced anxiety occurring before tests. In another study done by Barnes et al. (2008) it reduced stress, blood pressure, and blood pressure in African American teenagers (as cited in Khalsa et al., 2011). These various studies clearly show yoga’s beneficial properties on stress and anxiety.
In conclusion, yoga is an effective treatment for depression and stress-related conditions. This work limits its research to yoga’s benefits to its effects on depression and anxiety; however, because of its mood-enhancing qualities, it would be interesting to know some of its other psychological benefits. Can yoga potentially help with patience and anger management as well?
Bränström, R., Kvillemo, P., & Moskowitz, J. T. (2011). A randomized study of the effects of mindfulness training on psychological well-being and symptoms of stress in patients treated for cancer at 6-month follow-up. International Society for Behavioral Medicine, 19, 535-542. doi:10.1007/s12529-011-9192-3
Chen, F., Lv, X., Fang, J., Yu, S., Sui, J., Fan, L., . . . Jiang, T. (2015). The effect of body-mind relaxation meditation induction on major depressive disorder: A resting-state fMRI study. Journal of Affective Disorders, 183, 75-82. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2015.04.030
de Castro, J. M. (2015). Meditation has stronger relationships with mindfulness, kundalini, and mystical experiences than yoga and prayer. Consciousness and Cognition, 35, 115-127. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2015.04.022
Khalsa, S. S., Hickey-Schultz, L., Cohen, D., Steiner, N., & Cope, S. (2011). Evaluation of the mental health benefits of yoga in a secondary school: A preliminary randomized controlled trial. Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 39(1), 80-91. doi:DOI 10.1007/s11414-011-9249-8