Yoga and Mental Health

Patanjali in Yoga sutras says “Yogah chitta vritti nirodhah”  which means the primary aim of  Yoga is removal of fluctuation of mind. Yoga brings about positive health by causing relaxation of the whole body, slowing down the respiration (making it quiet and deep) and calming the mind, thereby helping in improving attention and concentration. It improves awareness of the body, emotions and mind; and the flow of healing ‘Pranic Life Energy’. It increases self-reliance and self-confidence, thereby improving the ability to handle stress. It improves self-regulation thereby helping us take the responsibility of our own health. Improvement of dietary habits and facilitating natural emanation of wastes is also an important part of Yoga.

In general, yoga helps reduce anxiety and improves the senses of well being. It leads to better interpersonal relationships, increases attentiveness lowered irritability levels, and an optimistic outlook in life in healthy individuals.

Yoga has been shown to help improves symptoms in several physical disorders, like diabetes, hypertension, asthma and also in mental disorders, like anxiety, depression and psychosis. Yoga practice has been reported to help depressive symptoms since a long time. It lifts the mood and improves interest in activities, attention /concentration/memory, sleep and appetite. It has been found to have effect on the cognitive/behavourial aspects due to its mindfulness component. Research at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience has also shown that the practice of yoga has effects on biological parameters like increasing the parasympathetic tone, reducing cortisol levels and decreasing the neuro-inflammation in patients with depression. In fact, Yoga has been used as a sole treatment for patient with mild to moderate depression in several recent studies in India and abroad. In patient with psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia, yoga practice has been shown improve socialization, motivation to do activities, occupational functioning, ability to recognize others emotions/feelings, and cognitive abilities. This is probably brought about by the increase in the ‘cuddle hormone’, namely oxytocin, by yoga.

Yoga holds promise as a complementary therapy in cases of tobacco, alcohol and opioid dependence along with routine medical intervention and psychological interventions, with effects during both the acute withdrawal phase and long term relapse prevention. The mechanism include direct decrease in sympathetic discharge that accompanies the withdrawal state as well as improvement in negative mood states and stress reduction during the long term maintenance phase that may prevent a relapse.

The systematic methods of concentration taught in yoga practice have been thought in yoga oractice have been thought to potentially help reduce attention deficits. In addition, yoga may produce a state of calmness and contentment which is lacking in children with Attention –Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Yoga may offer benefits as an effective tool to increase imitation, cognitive skills and social-communicative behaviours in children.

Yoga was practiced in ancient times for overall general well-being and spiritual progress. Current research evidence suggests that yoga can be used as an add-on therapy or in some instances as a sole therapy for psychiatric disorders as well. It not only improves the symptoms, but brings about the holistic change in an individual.