Yoga is much more than twisting yourself into pretzel-like physical postures. It’s much more than flexibility training for your body. Trying yoga involves much more than chanting and incense. Yoga is an ancient discipline and is diligently practiced by millions across the globe. From this practice, many dedicated yogis gain:

Overall awareness

A new relaxation technique

A sense of community

Increased physical strength

Improved mental health

These and other yoga-related benefits are possible because yoga practices teach us to focus inward. We find our attention drawn to:

Our breath and heartbeat

The sensations in our muscles and bones

The emotions inspired by all the above

Perhaps the simplest way to describe this process is mindfulness.

How Mindfulness Impacts Our Inner World

Researchers report that the relaxation response provoked by practicing yoga can lead to a wide variety of mental health benefits. This process occurs because yoga directly impacts functions involving your body’s nerves, gasses, and fluids. When deep breathing shifts the body’s state from arousal to calm, the brain perceives this shift as a reduction of external threats. This means the body shifts from its sympathetic to its parasympathetic nervous system. As a result:

There is a reduction in the flow of arousing chemicals like adrenaline.

Also reduced is the amount of fatty acids and sugar entering the blood stream

A decrease in sodium in the body’s cells helps to relax your brain, heart, and muscles

Blood acidity and alkalinity balance is restored

Your mind and body enter a far more relaxed state

Warning: Not all yoga is automatically relaxing. Power and/or “hot” yoga are specifically designed to intensely activate arousal. The ensuing goal is a much deeper state of relaxation at rest.

7 Amazing Ways Yoga Supports Your Mental Health

1. Yoga Facilitates a shift away from the fight-or-flight response

This is the foundation for yoga’s mental health benefits. In fact, a recent study found that the deep state of relaxation induced by yoga can immediately and positively change the expression of our genes. The result is enhanced energy, metabolism, immune function, and more.

2. Yoga chemically helps decrease anxiety

Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is a brain chemical that regulates nerve activity. People with anxiety disorders tend to have low GABA activity. However, yoga has been shown to increase GABA activity.

3. Yoga increases memory and concentration

This is a hallmark of increased mindfulness. As our practice deepens, our in-the-moment awareness grows, and our ability to focus returns.

4. Yoga fosters supportive community

Some people attend a yoga school while others may take a yoga class at their gym, workplace, or perhaps in an informal outdoor setting. There’s good news here for all of you. No matter where you practice, you will find like-minded souls sharing a non-competitive environment. What may begin as individuals struggling through tricky poses can transform into a bonded community.

5. Yoga reduces trauma symptoms

You or someone you know may be a victim of domestic or sexual abuse. Perhaps you have just returned from a combat zone. In easing trauma, yoga has been found in studies to succeed where pharmacological treatments have failed.

6. Yoga supports focus on breathing

We are our breath and we cannot live without breathing. But oh, how often we take this reality for granted! Yoga gently brings our attention back to our breath so you might say, yoga teaches us to start at the beginning.

7. Yoga puts us in touch with the mind-body connection

At its root, yoga can be a daily reminder that our minds and our bodies are unified as one. From this knowledge, deep mental and physical healing can spring forth and greatly improve our lives.