Why Yoga Works

Adding yoga to a traditional talk therapy treatment plan can offer clients many physiological and psychological benefits.

One of the reasons yoga is helpful in healing from what we refer to as a “mental illness” or a “disorder” is that yogic philosophy is accepting of all mental states and does not pathologize these imbalances, or see them as something that is inherently wrong with an individual. Instead, yoga acknowledges and radically accepts what each one of us experience as swings in mood. Although diagnoses offer us a helpful framework from which to treat symptoms, individuals can potentially identify so strongly with the label of a diagnosis that s/he may find it difficult to feel anything other than that emotional state – “I have depression, therefore I AM depressed.” Some people can lose all awareness of those subtle cracks of light streaming in through the darkness. Since we have permission and awareness in yoga to feel everything – each constant changing state, no matter how subtle – each state is acknowledged and accepted in every moment. Yoga encourages us to work first toward compassion and acceptance, and to give up the exhausting struggle against certain “bad” emotional states that are our reality. It also provides us with tools to work toward balance and more effective emotion management to regain control over these imbalanced states.

yoga docSome physiological benefits of yoga practices:

  • Decrease in cortisol levels (stress hormone)
  • Likely to increase feel-good hormones: oxytocin and prolactin
  • Increased serotonin (contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness)
  • Increased GABA levels
  • Improvement in memory, cognitive functioning, perceptual motor skills, visual perception
  • Relaxes chronic muscle tension
  • Certain practices stimulate the vagus nerve
  • Calms the sympathetic nervous system (our automatic response to stress and danger)

Some psychological benefits of yoga practices:happy

  • Elevates mood
  • Balances left/right brain function
  • Cultivates equanimity in the face of life’s challenges
  • Develops greater self-awareness and acceptance
  • Develops greater access to feelings, which is helpful in talk therapy
  • Release of repressed emotions stored in the body
  • Increased ability to self-regulate

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