Yoga has very much become a part of our American culture.
Entire magazines are devoted to the topic. Articles about it are frequently published in a variety of
other titles. It has been integrated into children’s physical education classes. And it has even
been adapted for a variety of physical conditions. Yoga is used to help cancer patients recover and
manage their illness.
And, of course, yoga pants are ubiquitous casual wear, even for those who have never struck a
The value of yoga for mental health issues has also become a topic of interest. Indeed, practicing
yoga has been shown to help a variety of concerns. And many studies support its effectiveness. The
issues it can treat include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addiction.
But how exactly does yoga work for mental health issues?
Much of yoga’s intrinsic value stems from the fact that it requires us to draw upon both our minds
and our bodies. While mental health is often falsely presumed to be only a brain issue, the brain and
the rest of our bodies are inextricably linked. What happens in our brains affects our bodies, and vice
Creating a positive feedback loop between our brain and our body is a powerful step in addressing
mental health issues. Yoga allows such a feedback loop to occur naturally.
It’s easy to get caught in the negative thoughts and low energy of depression. Indeed, when we’re
depressed, we often end up “living in our heads.” We may ignore what our physical body is feeling or
what it needs. We can even forget to breathe fully.
But the mental effort required of yoga can help move us out of our thoughts and into the physical
presence of our bodies. We must direct our focus toward our lungs and limbs. Creating awareness
of sensations, we often ignore pulls us into the present moment.
Experiencing the present moment is an important element of mindfulness. Mindfulness itself is also
shown to be helpful for mental health issues. But it can be hard to be mindful through our own
efforts. Learning to tie into our physical body through yoga helps us with this.
Anxiety and PTSD
Anyone who has experienced anxiety or PTSD is familiar with the very uncomfortable physical
sensations that come along with it. A pounding heart, shortness of breath, and sometimes even
uncontrollable shaking can feel more than just uncomfortable. This is especially true when there may
be no obvious physical threat or danger.
Yoga can help you learn to manage and respond to both the physical and mental symptoms of
anxiety. As with depression, yoga requires you to focus on the present moment. It takes
concentration to hold your body in a yoga pose. Your brain has to direct its energy toward physical
control of your body.
As you’re doing this, you learn to be aware of your breath. When you’re anxious, your breathing
changes without you being aware of it. When you can be in tune with your breath and how it affects
the rest of your body, you’ve taken an important step in anxiety treatment.
And, most importantly, yoga can be adapted for all kinds of fitness levels ages and body shapes and
sizes. A person doesn’t have to be athletic to engage in yoga.
As a mental health therapist, I am always eager to share treatment methods with my clients that can
help them heal. If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, I encourage you to reach out to me.
Together, we can discuss your symptoms and create a game plan for treatment that may include
options such as yoga.