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Yoga Helps Individuals with Mental Health Issues

By Emily Simso, Marketing Intern

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In recent years, there has been an increase in yoga’s popularity in the United States. While many herald yoga for its physical benefits, recent studies have found that it aids mental health in a variety of areas as well.

Yoga has effects similar to antidepressants and psychotherapy, meaning it may provide an alternative treatment method for individuals dealing with mental health issues. Researchers from Duke University Medical Center found that yoga helps individuals suffering from mild depression, sleep problems, schizophrenia, and ADHD. Overall, they believe this is possible because yoga may increase neurotransmitters in the brain, lower inflammation, and reduce oxidative stress. In a 2006 study, individuals with depression reported lower cortisol levels (the neurotransmitter correlated to stress) after doing yoga for seven days. Patients with schizophrenia have shown reduced aggression and increased compliance after eight weeks of yoga, along with greater social functioning after a longer trial period.

Another study found that yoga aids individuals who suffer from anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by encouraging a sense of control. The deep breathing portions of yoga help individuals reduce stress through the mindfulness and control required. Similarly, yoga can assist those with bipolar disorder to reduce stress and calm manic episodes by decreasing depressing thoughts and increasing thought clarity.

Vinland Center offers yoga classes for our residential and outpatient chemical health programs. The classes serve as an introduction to yoga and many of the clients, though some are reluctant at first, greatly enjoy the program. Several individuals have commented that yoga help them de-stress, focus, and generally “feel better.”

Carole Steffl, a certified adaptive yoga instructor, leads the classes at the residential program. She begins each session with a discussion about modifications to the yoga positions, since she says her biggest challenge is the “wide variety of physical abilities” in any given class. Carole adapts movements depending on who is in the session and always “listens to the bodies” of her students to create safe positions so everyone can participate. While some clients are more interested than others, several decide to pursue yoga after their time at Vinland. When Carole follows up with clients six months after their graduation, some are still taking classes.

Vinland’s outpatient facility offers yoga sessions that focus on providing a “self-soothing” experience through dim light, aromatherapy, and a “no right or wrong way of participating” attitude. Kathleen Johnson is a chemical health case manager in the outpatient program who is certified in complementary and alternative medicine. She also does yoga in her groups, and she says yoga helps clients manage their stress and anxiety levels. Additionally, she uses yoga during one-on-one sessions to help clients unwind.

Yoga shows great potential as an alternative therapeutic remedy and as more studies are done, it will hopefully be adopted in more healthcare centers. Until then, Vinland will keep spreading the calming joy one “Namaste” at a time.

Sources: Frontiers in Psychiatry, October 2012; Journal of Depression Research and Treatment, 2012