Yoga Connects Physical and Mental Health
The third in a series of four articles for Mental Health Month
Written by: Carrie Kubacki, Interim Family Living Educator, Langlade County UW-Extension
In last week’s article, we explored the connection between physical and mental health. We will continue this discussion by looking at how yoga in particular can help to bridge the gap between physical movement and emotional well being.
Yoga is a practice that can help individuals to transform their lives on every level—physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. While many of us envision strenuous, complicated poses done in hot physical environments, yoga can also be very gentle and accommodating to every ability level and physical condition. In relation to mental health, yoga can help us to understand how emotions live in our bodies and how they affect our behavior and minds. The techniques of yoga, including physical movement, breathing and mindfulness can all help to boost mental health in the following ways:
- Yoga releases endorphins which help to improve mood while increasing strength, flexibility and balance.
- Yoga helps to decrease the “flight or fight” stress response in our nervous system and promotes the ability of our own body and breath to increase relaxation.
- Yoga helps to build your sense of self by decreasing negative self-judgment and increasing self-awareness, confidence and courage.
A number of research studies have begun to show the benefits of yoga practice on individuals coping with mental illness. Both overseas and in the United States, researchers have found that treatments that include yoga have a greater reduction in symptoms than those without yoga (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2017). Further, the physical postures of yoga and breathing exercises have been shown effective in reducing post-traumatic stress symptoms (Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2014). Finally, a recent article published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2017 showed how yoga and meditation can work to increase our mind-body health and improve our stress resilience. These results demonstrate how yoga can also be beneficial in the prevention of mental health conditions.
By combining physical movement, breathing techniques, mindfulness and relaxation, yoga can be one safe and effective way for all of us to promote overall emotional health and well being. The Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers information and research regarding the benefits of mindfulness and yoga. Please visit www.centerhealthyminds.org for more information.