Yoga and Mental Health

 Yoga is being used more and more as an alternative form of treatment for improving a variety of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar and even psychotic disorders. Recently, researchers have examined the benefits and effectiveness of yoga practices for managing depressive symptoms. New research studies indicate that integrating yoga therapy in clinical practice shows promising results in reducing symptoms of various mental health disorders. In fact, it is predicted that a yoga therapist could be a potential member of the mental health team in coming days (1).

The very first saying of Patanjali, the father of yoga, points to a strong link between yoga and mind (Iyengar, 1993) as yoga being a means to heal the mind. Many studies have shown strong evidence that practicing yoga has benefits in terms of mood states, quality of life and subjective well being. Therefore, many mental health professionals are gravitating toward incorporating yoga as an intervention in treating their patients.

Yoga and Depression

 Yoga has consistently emerged as a potential antidepressant (Cabral, Meyer, & Ames, 2012). Although many studies have used yoga with medications, some that have used yoga alone too have reported substantial antidepressant effects (with response rates >60%) (Janakiramaiah et al., 2000). Additionally, a review of 23 studies conducted in 7 countries found that yoga practices were effective in significantly reducing symptoms of depression.

 Yoga and Psychosis

 In patients with psychosis, randomized studies comparing yoga with waitlist, or exercise, indicate significant advantage of yoga over either of these. Consistent benefits of yoga point to reduction in negative symptoms such as anhedonia, blunted affect, apathy, social withdrawal, etc, (Varambally et al., 2012). This becomes significant as the negative symptoms are most difficult to treat, and aggressive pharmacotherapy can also potentially exaggerate other symptoms. Yoga also improved social cognition, a dimension that is recently gaining attention (Behere et al., 2011).

Yoga and Anxiety

Well conducted trials confirm that Anxiety as a symptom of stress has consistently responded to yoga (Ravindran & da Silva, 2013). Physiological consequences of anxiety have been contained by the practice of yoga (Pascoe & Bauer, 2015).

Yoga as a therapeutic ingredient in mental disorders deserves attention. It can be an add-on for most disorders and even be the sole agent in some. Given the recency of its introduction in modern clinical practice, it is natural to demand more evidence, more professional standards, easy accessibility and a sound neurobiological basis (2).

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1) Thirthalli J, Rao N. Special supplement: Yoga and mental health. International Review Of Psychiatry [serial online]. May 2016;28(3):231-232. Available from: PsycINFO, Ipswich, MA. Accessed December 25, 2017.

2) Varambally S, Gangadhar B. Current status of yoga in mental health services. International Review Of Psychiatry [serial online]. May 2016;28(3):233-235. Available from: PsycINFO, Ipswich, MA. Accessed December 25, 2017.