Yoga for Men - Reason 4 - Mental Health
The portrait of yoga that emerges from decades of mood and metabolic studies is of a discipline that succeeds brilliantly at smoothing the ups and downs of emotional life.
William J Broad – 2x Pulitzer Prize winner and author of “The Science of Yoga”
Mental and Emotional Benefits
Of all the myriad of benefits of yoga, its positive influence on our mental health is far and away the one that has the most scientific research backing it up.
Research has shown yoga has benefits including:
- reducing anxiety and stress
- increasing happiness
- improving our self-image, and
- as part of a treatment plan, combating and managing depression.
I am not, repeat not, claiming yoga as a panacea that will cure all ills. Sadly, it’s not a magic cure that will make everything better all the time. But, repeated studies all around the world have shown yoga to have significant benefits in this arena, and the next section will look at one reason why.
Yoga and Neurotransmitters
One chemical factor that is commonly held to contribute to depression and anxiety disorders is low levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as: GABA (gamma-aminobutryric acid), Serotonin, Norepinephrine and Dopamine, in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that are used to transmit messages across synapses of our brain and are important in the maintenance and creation of connections in the brain.
You can read more on science’s understanding of the causes of depression here.
Exercise in general has been shown to have a positive effect on the levels of neurotransmitters, especially serotonin (1), however the research specifically on Yoga has been shown to be incredibly positive showing it to be of equal or greater effectiveness than other exercise trials (2). It is speculated that this is due to yoga’s combination of exercise and relaxation. Meaning that Yoga combines the benefits of physical exercise, breathing exercises and mindfulness type meditation (3).
One example of multitudes of studies on this area was held in 2007 (4) looking at levels of GABA (low levels of which are associated with anxiety disorders). It compared groups of twenty-somethings, one of whom followed a 60 minute yoga class contrasted against a control group who read magazines and books for an hour.
The results found that the yoga practitioners showed a rise on average of 27% in their GABA, contrasted with no change at all in the control group. In addition the yoga practitioners who practised more often showed the highest increases, the participant who practised 5 times a week demonstrated an increase of 80% almost doubling the level of this particular neurotransmitter.
There is a growing acknowledgement and society that Mental Health must be considered and supported with the same focus and attention as Physical Health.
Much like our physical health, mental health is complicated, and it would be completely wrong to try claiming that an activity like Yoga, on its own, is going to prevent or fix a specific individual’s mental health challenges.
However, the NHS, and other medical bodies around the world, are now prescribing yoga and other forms of exercise as part of a treatment for certain mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. The research is showing that yoga supports both the health of both our body and our brain.
Simply put, yoga makes us happier, and who wouldn’t want a bit more happiness in their life? :-)
Reason 4 - Mental Health