by: Arielle Parrish
Yoga began over 5,000 years ago, and people have been feeling the positive effects ever since. In the Western world, yoga was only introduced in the late 19th and early 20th century, only becoming truly popular in the 1980s. While it is obvious that yoga has been helping humans since its origins, it is only in the recent past that Western scientists have decided to start studying it.
Science has finally started proving what yogis have experienced for themselves—that yoga reduces stress and elevates the mood. Let’s take a look at a few of the most interesting studies about yoga’s varied benefits on mental health.
Yoga practices help reduce the impact of stress responses. By reducing perceived stress, yoga can help decrease the physical signs of stress—lowering the heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. This leads to less anxiety and depression.
In 2008 a study from the University of Utah looked at the effect of yoga on the stress response. They looked at three groups of people—experienced yogis, people with fibromyalgia (a stress-related illness that causes hypersensitivity to pain), and healthy people.
When the three groups were subjected to thumbnail pressure, the participants with fibromyalgia, as one would expect, perceived pain at lower pressure levels than the other subjects. The MRIs also showed they had the greatest activity in the areas of the brain associated with the pain response. On the other hand, the yoga practitioners had the highest pain tolerance and lowest level of brain activity in the pain response areas of the brain.
Science has yet to discover why yoga works to improve the mood, but studies have shown again and again that it certainly does.
In a 2005 German study, women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed” took two yoga classes a week for three months. The control group maintained their normal activities—which did not include exercise or stress reducing techniques. At the end of the three months, the women in the yoga classes reported improvements—depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores improved by an incredible 65%. Headache, backache, and poor sleep quality complaints also decreased more often in the yoga group than in the control.
Another study in 2005 looked at the effects of a yoga class in a New Hampshire psychiatric hospital. Patients with bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia took the class. Before and after, patients answered an extensive questionnaire about their mood. The average levels of anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, tension, and fatigue dropped a significant amount throughout the patients in the class—in just one class.