Yoga practitioners around the world have long proclaimed the physical and emotional benefits of this practice. More recently, researchers have started to demonstrate evidence for these claims.
A growing body of research suggests that yoga may be an important ally in reducing symptoms of chronic stress, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Yoga has been shown to enhance social well-being, improve mood, behavior, and sleep, and increase mindfulness skills in children, teens, and adults. For more information on these studies, please check out the links at the bottom of the page.
How does yoga help?
Yoga, similarly to meditation, other forms of physical exercise, and even social interaction, is thought to impact stress, anxiety, and depression by improving mood and decreasing maladaptive nervous system arousal. Yoga causes an increase in endorphins (the “happy chemicals” in the brain), and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA (a neurochemical that helps regulate nerve activity). The deep breathing that accompanies yoga helps shift the brain from a state of biochemical arousal and tension to a state of calm and relaxation. This shift helps lower the brain’s response to threat (stress and anxiety), and decreases signs of physiological arousal such as heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration.
Through Yoga, which teaches self-awareness, children, teens, and adults with ADHD, can learn to connect with their mind and body, which can help build better self-control, and alleviate impulsivity. Yoga’s focus on rhythmic breathing can also help children and adults learn to stay more focused, while the physical work of yoga can help decrease hyperactivity by providing a way for children to exert excess energy.
So what does this all mean?
Practitioners in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and education, are taking notice. Researchers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, are offering yoga-based treatments to our returning veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Yoga has been incorporated into Eating Disorder and Substance Abuse treatment programs all over the country. Yoga is also being incorporated in programs that help students and teens with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). For example, in a recent post, “Yoga, Feel the Now,” Brad Hoffman, CEO and founder of My Learning Springboard, Inc., a multidisciplinary educational consulting firm, describes how his own yoga practice lead him to include private yoga coaching among the services that he provides for his clients. He writes that the mental, physical, and emotional demands of a yoga practice can help students in a variety of ways. Students with attention difficulties and anxiety may begin to feel more calm and grounded, while students who are impatient and impulsive may increase their patience and control.
Yoga as a practice tool:
Yoga and the Therapy of Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder:
Yoga shows psychological benefits for high-school students: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120404101824.htm
Study identifies genes, pathways altered during relaxation response practice:
Kirkwood G, et al. “Yoga for Anxiety: A Systematic Review of the Research,” British Journal of Sports Medicine (Dec. 2005): Vol. 39, No. 12, pp. 884–91.
Pilkington K, et al. “Yoga for Depression: The Research Evidence,” Journal of Affective Disorders (Dec. 2005): Vol. 89, No. 1–3, pp. 13–24.