What is yoga?
Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility, and breathing to boost wellbeing. The main elements of yoga are postures, often in a flow of movements, designed to increase strength and flexibility combined with breathing techniques.
We all know the physical benefits of yoga practice, such as improved circulation, strength, flexibility, respiration, and energy, but yoga also has profound effects on the brain and mental health
Here Are 6 Brain and Mental Benefits of Yoga
- It moves you from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system.
You will have heard of the fight or flight instinct, the response that is triggered when the body reacts to a threat, this is the sympathetic nervous system. Yoga activates your parasympathetic nervous system which is on the opposite end of the spectrum and is known as the rest and relaxation part of the body. When the parasympathetic system is running efficiently, the benefits include lower blood pressure, better digestion, and a much more balanced life. This is the system that helps you calm down, so you typically have less anxiety and enter a more relaxed state. As soon as you start breathing deeply, you slow down the fight-or-flight and calm your nervous system. The postures in yoga, paired with deep breathing techniques, help to activate this system and have been proven to reduce anxiety and have amazing mental benefits for anxiety disorders.
- Boosts Your Focus
Studies have shown that a regular yoga practice can increase the connection between the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (or GABA) and brain cells. The more cell connections within the brain, the better memory and cognitive function you will have. Yoga-goers can improve brain function with each yoga pose, and certain yoga techniques have been used to stimulate the brain connections. Individuals demonstrated improved reaction times and accuracy on tests after a 20-minute yoga session, which was not shown in those who participated in a 20-minute aerobic exercise activity. This means that doing yoga before important exams may help to boost concentration and also stave off dementia due to increased memory function.
- Increased Happiness
Your brain releases all kinds of good endorphins after cardiovascular exercise, but this can be found after a yoga session too. It has been scientifically proven that the levels of hormones GABA, dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin in the brain drastically increase after a yoga session. This means that you feel more creative and energetic whilst also feeling less anxiety. Many believe that there is a huge benefit to doing yoga if you struggle with mental illness. While your happy brain chemicals increase, cortisol, which is the hormone associated with stress, fear, and depression, decreases. People suffering from anxiety and depression could benefit from a daily yoga session to increase the happy hormones.
Mindfulness is focusing on the present moment without judgment and notices any emotions that may arise. The concept advocates “focussing on the now” and to be connected with oneself and is regularly included within the practice of yoga. Often during yoga, it is helpful to begin the practice with a five-minute meditation, focusing on holding the pose and focusing on the inhale and exhale of the breath. This is mindfulness. Mindfulness on its own provides some significant benefits to mental health. According to research, mindfulness is an important element in the treatment of a number of mental health conditions, including depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, couples’ conflicts, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It can also help us to focus our attention, as well as to observe our thoughts and feelings without judgment, so by incorporating it into your yoga practice, you will reap the benefits.
- Pain Reduction
Yoga helps keep the body strong, supple, and better able to prevent and also recover from injury. Yoga is very helpful in treating some of the mechanical aspects of pain, for example when there are tight muscles which contribute to pain but it also impacts on the brains pain response. Regular yoga has an effect on the parietal lobe of the brain. This is the area of the brain which manages limb movement, understanding speech, and pain and can help reduce the pain response. Yoga can help people with many chronic pain conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine and back pain.
- Increased Self-Awareness and esteem
The hippocampus and the somatosensory cortex which are the centres of the brain which deal with moderating anxiety and body awareness physically grow in size with regular yoga proactive. What all these physical changes mean is that doing regular yoga could lead to increased self-confidence, reasoning and problem-solving skills. Even better, the positive effects of yoga practice can occur after performing yoga poses for only 2 minutes. Not only does it physically alter the brain, but through the use of methodical and energizing movements, yoga increases empowerment and brings difficulties into perspective. It is challenging to master certain poses and the hard work in achieving your yoga goals brings with it a feeling of individual control and power.
- Improves sleep quality
Poor sleep quality has been associated with many health conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, and depression, among other disorders. Studies show that incorporating yoga into your nighttime routine could help promote better sleep. Yoga has been shown to increase the release of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness. Yoga also has a significant effect on anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and stress which are all common causes of sleep problems. In a study of patients who were assigned to either a nightly yoga practice, take a herbal medication or be part of the control group, the yoga group fell asleep faster, slept for longer and felt more refreshed in the morning than the other groups. Another study looked at the effects of yoga on sleep in patients suffering from lymphoma. They found that nightly yoga decreased sleep disturbances, improved quality of sleep, and duration and reduced the need for sleep medications.