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Zen stones in water

Many casual and passionate yoga practitioners point to stress relief as one of the many benefits of their practice. But what if you’re looking for more than to simply unwind after a long day at the office, or to escape the chaos of busy day to day life for an hour or two?

A publication from Harvard Medical School on explores several studies dating back as far as 2000 which point to the benefits of yoga, and suggest that yoga practices “can reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and may be helpful for both anxiety and depression.”

If you’ve taken a yoga class you’ve probably experienced the calming effect it can have. The controlled breathing, moving through poses, and general atmosphere which might include soothing music, pleasant scents, and gentle guidance from an instructor all work to calm the mind and also produce a physiological response in the body. This can decrease the body’s response to stress signals, reducing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure.

A small 2008 study mentioned in the article showed that experienced yoga practitioners had higher pain tolerance when compared to another group of healthy adults as well as lower “pain-related brain activity” shown via an MRI. This demonstrates that the practice of yoga helps regulate responses to stress and pain responses.

Another study from 2005 showed that women self described as “emotionally distressed” saw improvements relating to depression, anxiety and overall well-being after taking two ninety minute yoga classes per week for three months. Other noted benefits included reduced headaches, back pain, and improved sleep quality.

Patients with severe mental health issues (bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia) at a psychiatric hospital showed reduced levels of “tension, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and fatigue following a yoga class.

Not A Cure All

It’s important to recognize that while yoga can offer significant rewards, both mental and physical, it is not the answer in all situations. If you or someone you care about is facing severe anxiety and/or depression do not hesitate to seek the help of a mental health professional, such as calling 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255.)

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