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The benefits of yoga for depression, anxiety and stress

Updated: Apr 18

Written by Bonnie Rose Aherin, L6 BTEC, ACMT from www.knotsology.com


Bonnie Rose Aherin, L6 BTEC, ACMT

Bonnie Rose is an Advanced Clinical and Sports Massage Therapist located in Dunfermline, Scotland, UK. This blog post was written as a final exam assignment for The House of OM's 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training.




Benefits of Yoga on Mental Health

People around the world enjoy practicing yoga and the positive effects it can have on their daily lives. Knotsology focuses on the experience you can benefit from yoga on depression, anxiety and stress in your life.


Yoga was an integral part of my life throughout my years of training as a Level 6 BTEC Advanced Clinical & Sports Massage Therapist with the Jing Advanced Massage Institute in Brighton, England. My teachers inspired me to continue my yoga journey with The House of OM. I have been able to reflect on my personal experience with yoga and how its benefits can further the research I began with my dissertation from the Clinical Massage Research Conference of 2023 on the effects of guided self therapy for adults with depression, anxiety and stress.


As time passes, Yoga remains constant in its ability to create and improve 'a greater sense of well-being, increase feelings of relaxation, improve self-confidence...and encourage an optimistic outlook on life' (Woodyard, 2011). In a literature study by Kamraju (2023), he suggested that the effects yoga has on the nervous system and its ability to 'promote mindfulness and reduce stress' is the connecting factor between yoga and mental health in various research studies.


This article will highlight on the benefits of yoga as a complementary therapy for depression, anxiety and stress and how you can implement it his year in your day-to-day life. Further links for where to reach out for more specific mental health needs or in times of crisis will be shown at the end of this article.


#1 - Increased feelings of relaxation


Yoga can give you both immediate feelings of relaxation and help you experience long term benefits to aid living with depression, anxiety and stress.


One of the immediate benefits from engaging in yoga is an increased feeling of relaxation. Three asanas (poses) in yoga that are good for relaxation:


  • Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose): Allows freshly oxygenated blood to flow to your upper extremities, benefiting the lymphatic system, which works better when the body is relaxed. This communicates to the body that you can leave the sympathetic nervous state of ‘fight or flight’ and move into a parasympathetic state of ‘rest and relaxation’. If you find the pose uncomfortable, you can add a pillow or folded towel for support to your lower back.

  • Supta Baddha Konasana (reclined butterfly pose): Reduces stress and calms the mind while increasing mobility in the hips. Add support to your head, lower back and/or knees with pillows. In a restorative pose such as this, it is useful to use your breath as an anchor and to focus on how your body feels.

  • Savasana (corpse pose):  Ending yoga sessions in savasana can benefit your management of depression and insomnia, as well as decreasing headaches. Pay attention to how your body feels against the floor. You can use the aid of a blanket or an eye mask to increase the benefits of relaxation.





Increased feelings of relaxation will aid in your ability to sleep better. Studies have indicated that including consistent yoga poses into one's daily regimen can aid in attaining high-quality sleep and waking up feeling well rested.



#2 - Improves self-confidence and body image


Yoga is a focus of personal growth even more than it is a shared group activity. In a yoga class setting it is important to remember not to compare oneself to another participant's ability or experience level. In a place of no judgements, it allows us to focus on the connection of our mind, body and breath. As we meet ourselves where we are in the current moment we can welcome the improvement of self-confidence and body image.


"Yoga is an effective method to increase the self-esteem and the body image" – Ozdemir and Saritas (2019)

Yoga benefits and improves the abilities of strength, balance and flexibility. The aid of pose variations and modifications with props means that anybody with any body type or level of experience can do yoga. With a regular practice, an individual can improve their poses as they build upon their technique and form. Self-confidence continues to build as we move the focus away from how we perceive we may look and instead on how we feel in our bodies as we move into and hold different asanas.


Vrikshasana or tree pose

Vrikshasana or 'tree pose':

Balancing poses in yoga are a confidence builder, such as Vrikshasana or 'tree pose'. As you balance in this pose, through the strength of your standing leg, you ground yourself. It can be empowering to see the improvement over time as your return to different or even more challenging asanas.


#3 - Builds a practice of mindfulness


Bringing mindfulness into your daily life can aid in regulating depression, anxiety and stress. Yoga and the physical practice of asanas has always required mindfulness.


There are several ways you can implement mindfulness into your yoga journey such as:

  • Intention setting: Determine your individual purpose for doing a yoga at the start of a session.

  • Body scan: Closing your eyes and taking a moment to focus on your body for any tension, tightness, pain, or anything out of the ordinary.

  • Pranayama and breathwork There are eight different types of pranayamas in yoga. Finding a breathwork to connect breath to the body and mind.

  • Mindful movement with a mind-body awareness Going in and out of poses with intention and connection to breath, with a focus on body awareness.

  • Progressive muscle relaxation A way to relax the body from head to toe as you focus on individual areas to tense and release tension.

  • Meditation There are many ways one can meditate and a few items from this list could be done as a meditation for mindfulness.

  • Loving kindness Repeating a series of mantras out loud or silently with intention to send warmth, goodwill and kindness to others.


mindfulness and mediation

The power to change your body through yoga creates a confidence in your ability to change your life in ways you didn’t think possible. With mindfulness, conscious practice, you can connect with your personal power, your ability to change your life.- Baron Baptiste


#4 - Boosts emotional wellbeing and mood



Yoga can benefit mental health with improvement to emotional wellbeing and mood. Starting with cognitive benefits, yoga can help with improved focus and concentration. With the connection of breathwork and body movement it aids in the ability to be mindful and present. In doing Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutations, we flow into poses where we connect to the breath. Some poses are always done on the inhale while others are always done on the exhale.


Yoga may be your answer to more energy and brighter moods as you enjoy getting into the routine of spending time on your mat in the practice of yoga. Yoga may help boost the production of endorphins, your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters (Harvard Health Publishing, 2020)



Yoga and Breathwork


“Change your posture and you change the way you breathe. Change your breathing and you change your nervous system. This is one of the great lessons of yoga: Everything is connected …” McCall (2007)


#5 - Promotes a positive view in life with a community


While yoga is a personal practice it also can connect individuals with a sense of community. Whether you practice yoga in a class with others or from the home with an online supportive community.


Joining a yoga community you can find healing and support for living with life with depression, anxiety and stress. If you do practice yoga alone, a great tip is to mix in one-on-one sessions with an instructor. This can help with loneliness, helping you feel listened to and to provide practical support with adjustments and form from a yoga teacher.


There are so many great places to meet people who also enjoy yoga and at all levels of experience, even online from the comfort of your own home.



Living with depression, anxiety and/or stress? Make yoga a part of your mental health.


As we dive into a new year, perhaps you would like experience how yoga could benefit your life with living with depression, anxiety and stress. Subscribe to the Knotsology blog and follow us on the socials, for more ways to benefit your life in 2024. If you currently practice yoga or are wanting to start your practice, we would love to hear from you in the comments below!


Bonnie Rose Aherin, L6 BTEC, ACMT



 


Reach Out for more help


If you are or someone you know is seeking help for mental health or are in a crisis, please contact these hotlines below or relevant ones in your country of residence.


Resources for reaching out for additional support and help


Anxiety UK - Charity providing support if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.

Telephone: 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.30pm)


CALM - the Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15 to 35.

Telephone: 0800 58 58 58 (daily, 5pm to midnight)

Men’s Health Forum

24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email.


Mental Health Foundation

Provides information and support for anyone with mental health problems or learning disabilities.


Mind - Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.

Telephone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)


PAPYRUS

Young suicide prevention society.

Telephone: HOPElineUK 0800 068 4141 (9am to midnight, every day of the year)


Rethink Mental Illness

Support and advice for people living with mental illness.

Telephone: 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm)


Samaritans

Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.

Telephone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)


SANE

Emotional support, information and guidance for people affected by mental illness, their families and carers.

Textcare: comfort and care via text message, sent when the person needs it most: www.sane.org.uk/textcare


Peer support forum: www.sane.org.uk/supportforum


YoungMinds

Information on child and adolescent mental health. Services for parents and professionals.

Telephone: Parents’ helpline 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm)




 


References


Harvard Health Publishing (2020). Exercising to Relax. [online] Harvard Health. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax


Kamraju, M. (2023). The Impact of Yoga on Mental Health. [online] Indonesian Journal of Community and Special Needs Education. Available at: https://ejournal.upi.edu/index.php/IJCSNE/ [Accessed 13 Jan. 2024].


McCall, T. (2007). Yoga as Medicine. Random House Publishing Group.


Ozdemir, A. and Saritas, S. (2019). Effect of Yoga Nidra on the self-esteem and Body Image of Burn Patients. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 35, pp.86–91. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2019.02.002.


Smith, C., Hancock, H., Blake-Mortimer, J. and Eckert, K. (2007). A Randomised Comparative Trial of Yoga and Relaxation to Reduce Stress and Anxiety. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, [online] 15(2), pp.77–83. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2006.05.001.


Woodyard, C. (2011). Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. International Journal of Yoga, [online] 4(2), pp.49–54. doi:https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.85485.




*Author’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness or other health programs.


Contact hello(at)knotsology(dot)com to schedule your new client consultation today or visit www.knotsology.com for more information.

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