Fitness and exercise are known to improve both physical and mental health, and while any kind of exercise, even moderate intensity, will help you feel better and ease away the stresses and strains of the day, perhaps the method that promotes the health of both mind and body the best is yoga. Here's why you should consider this calming fitness regime and start reaping the benefits.
One of the primary aims of yoga is relaxation, and the combination of slow, deep breaths, a long-known method of stress relief, stretching and strengthening of the muscles, as well as the meditative aspect of the practice helps to lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Not only will that help to alleviate anxiety, depression and fatigue, but it could also benefit your physical health by lowering the blood pressure and boosting the immune system.
As you go through the various poses, deep breathing and stretching in a yoga class, you are encouraged to focus on the present, the here and now, and this is a method often used in meditation in order to promote health in both mind and body. It leads on to improved concentration, coordination and means you'll be better able to cope calmly with the pressures of modern-day living.
A 2004 study conducted by Harvard researchers suggested that practising daily yoga could help you to sleep better. The eight-week programme significantly improved sleep quality for those suffering from insomnia. Another study, conducted in 2010 at the University of Rochester Medical Centre in the US, found that gentle yoga helped cancer patients to sleep better and feel less fatigued. Though further studies are necessary, it is thought the process of deep breathing and mental exercises designed to help you to slow down lead to better shut-eye means you'll be better able to cope with stress and anxiety.
German research published in 2005 found that women who described themselves as 'emotionally distressed' experienced significant improvements in their mental wellbeing after taking two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months. At the end of the study, the women taking yoga classes reported depression scores that had improved by 50 per cent, anxiety by 30 per cent and overall wellbeing by 65%.
A 12-week study by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine and McLean Hospital in 2007 revealed that yoga may actually help the body to battle anxiety from within. The key is in the levels of gamma-aminobutyric (GABA), the brain's natural calming chemical, which is often increased by alcohol and is commonly used in anti-anxiety prescription medication.
A group of subjects enjoyed a one-hour yoga session, while a control group instead read for 60 minutes. At the end of the session, those who practised yoga displayed a 27 per cent increase in GABA levels, thereby feeling naturally calmer.
So the next time you feel stressed and anxious, why not check out your nearest yoga class? With all these benefits, you'll be an oasis of calm.
Do you regularly practice yoga? Has it helped to improve your mental wellbeing? Leave your comments below...