Yoga, a 5,000 year old practice of connecting the mind and the body, has shown promising effects for individuals dealing with trauma or depression. When linking the breath and movement (as an adjunct to psychotherapy) it can provide long lasting mental health benefits.
In 2004, after a tsunami devastated Southeast Asia, victims of this natural disaster found solace in yoga. Seeing the positive changes yoga created, a professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College decided to begin research on the psychological benefits yoga may have on people who suffer from a traumatic event. To one group of 60 survivors, she gave a four-day yoga breathing course. Another group of 60 survivors were given the yoga course along with psychological counseling. A third group served as controls. The two groups that received yoga treatment had a significant drop in stress and depression after just four days. The reduction of stress was so significant that the researchers implemented yoga into the control group's treatment as well.
Yoga can provide these benefits to anyone, not just those who experience something traumatic. One study looked at a group of healthy senior citizens in Oregon who participated in a 6 month yoga training while another group exercised by joining a walking group. Those in the yoga group had improved energy and a greater sense of well-being. The walking group did not experience those improvements. This is thought to occur because yogic breathing can physiologically alter the nervous system to create changes in emotional states. This happens through the vagus nerve, which is the pathway from the brain stem to the abdomen. Vagus nerve activation can aid in slowing down the heart rate, thus assisting in emotional reactions.
Research to learn more about the psychological influences of yoga is still new and in the beginning stages, but you can still benefit from yoga now by grabbing a mat and incorporating a few yoga sessions into your lifestyle.
Original article written by Paul Tullis