If you practice yoga regularly, you know that besides being a great workout, this ancient healing method can offer amazing benefit to a person’s overall mental health. Why? Well, besides forcing you (in a good way) to find that still place within yourself unfazed by the rigorous physical requirements that back-to-back yoga poses demand, a yoga practice teaches you valuable breathing habits that cultivate a meditative state and a sense of calm within one’s being.
Deepak Chopra pens this recent Huffington Post on the benefits of yoga. According to Chopra, yoga has not only been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate, reducing the risk of heart disease, but the meditation component of any yoga practice can also help to reduce instances of anxiety and depression.
Calming the mind Since yoga involves the mind as well as the body, it’s not surprising that it may helpreduce anxiety and depression, especially in people whose anxiety is related to an illness like cancer. More research is needed to learn exactly how yoga affects mood, but a 2007 study may provide a clue: It found that in experienced yoga practitioners, a 60-minute yoga session increased levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA. Low levels of GABA have been linked to depression and anxiety disorders. Another pilot study suggests that yoga may influence depression by increasing the alpha waves in the brain. Alpha waves are associated with relaxation. Yet another possibility is that yoga reduces the amount of cortisol, a hormone that the body releases in response to stress. Some scientists think chronic high levels of cortisol may be tied to depression, as well as impaired immune function.
If the potential health benefits of yoga aren’t enough to make you want to try it, consider this: Yoga can also make you look more toned and fit and help you move with greater ease, especially as you grow older. A2007 study of the Hatha yoga style showed that it increased muscular strength, flexibility and endurance. It’s no wonder that many athletes use yoga to cross-train.
Read more from Chopra on the benefits of yoga meditation here.