You may have heard that yoga improves our mental health. This concept is actually the foundation of The OT Yogi and the class Move your Mind Yoga.
Unfortunately, this is often made as a sweeping statement with no evidence provided to back this up.
As an Occupational Therapist, offering evidence-based therapy, a Masters student who is spending most of my “free time” reading scientific articles, and a huge nerd I decided to do some digging into the available evidence for the mental health benefits of yoga asanas (poses) and meditation, two of the eight limbs of yoga, as these two limbs are the most studied.
While there is still a long way to go before we have as much scientific research into the 8 limbs of yoga as I would like, there IS some solid research available and we as yoga teachers should talk about it more!
Here are just a few of the recent studies on yoga available:
A 2019 study found that yoga improves (lessens) symptoms of anxiety and depression (Saeed et al., 2019). This study also found that mindfulness meditation (without yoga poses) has positive effects on depression which can last for 6 months or more.
Another study investigating yoga’s benefits found that yoga improves measures of mental and physical health such as: stress, mood, heart rate variability, lung function, executive functioning, and interpersonal relationships(Shroff & Asgarpour, 2017).
(Domingues, 2018) found similar evidence for yoga’s benefits by finding that a regular yoga practice significantly increases mood (with lasting effects), resilience, mental wellbeing, self-compassion, self-esteem, and coping and relaxation skills.
Pretty compelling so far right? What about yoga without the Down Dog?
There is also some available research looking into meditation specifically:
A recent study (Zollars et al., 2019) had participants meditate for 10 minutes a day for a period of 4 weeks. At the end of this period, participants experienced improved overall mental health. The researchers went on to suggest that meditation is therefore a feasible option for minimising stress and maintaining mental wellbeing.
In a 2016 study, researchers spit participants into one group which meditated for 21 days, and one group which did not. The group that meditated were found to have significantly improved mental health, compared to the control group (Iqbal et al., 2016).
Loving kindness meditation has been shown to improve self-compassion and kindness towards ourselves (Weibel et al., 2017).
And finally a systematic review (a type of study that analyses the available research on a topic) investigated the evidence for the effects of meditation on mental health (Goyal et al., 2014). Their investigation found that there is good evidence that mediation improves symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pain.
Convinced? Don’t take my word for it! 😊 Read these articles (references below) or do your own exploration into the available literature. And if you find anything cool, I’d love to know!
Until next time, with love,
The OT Yogi
Domingues, R. B. (2018). Modern postural yoga as a mental health promoting tool: A systematic review. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 31, 248–255. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2018.03.002
Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M. S., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., Berger, Z., Sleicher, D., Maron, D. D., Shihab, H. M., Ranasinghe, P. D., Linn, S., Saha, S., Bass, E. B., & Haythornthwaite, J. A. (2014). Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(3), 357. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
Iqbal, N., Singh, A., & Aleem, S. (2016). Effect of Dynamic Meditation on Mental Health. Journal of Religion and Health, 55(1), 241–254. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-015-0082-x
Linehan, M. (2014). DBT Skills Training Manual – DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets (2nd ed.). Guilford Publications. https://books.google.co.za/books?id=ovQZBQAAQBAJ&dq=DBT%3F+Skills+training+AND+radical+acceptance&source=gbs_navlinks_s
Saeed, S. A., Cunningham, K., & Bloch, R. M. (2019). Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Benefits of Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation. American Family Physician, 99(10), 620–627. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2019/0515/p620.html?cmpid=em_AFP_20190318
Shroff, F. M., & Asgarpour, M. (2017). Yoga and Mental Health: A Review. Journal of Physiotherapy & Physical Rehabilitation, 02(01), 128–133. https://doi.org/10.4172/2573-0312.1000132
Weibel, D. T., McClintock, A. S., & Anderson, T. (2017). Does Loving-Kindness Meditation Reduce Anxiety? Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial. Mindfulness, 8(3), 565–571. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-016-0630-9
Zollars, I., Poirier, T. I., & Pailden, J. (2019). Effects of mindfulness meditation on mindfulness, mental well-being, and perceived stress. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, 11(10), 1022–1028. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cptl.2019.06.005