Take a Stand: Make YOGA Part of Your Program for Good Mental Health.

On Yoga: “Through sustained focus and meditation on our patterns, habits, and conditioning, we gain understanding of our past and how we can change the patterns that are not serving us more fully.” Daily Cup of Yoga.com.

I was introduced to yoga back in the 70’s when Eastern body and mind practices were first coming onto the scene of American culture. It was the time of hippies, tie-dyed tee shirts, musical artists like The Who and Janice Joplin, and Eastern spiritual Gurus spreading their philosophies and spiritual practices in America. My best friend’s older sister lived on an Ashram in Boulder, Colorado, at the time. When she would come back home to visit, she’d share stories of her life there. Her mesmerizing counter-culture tales of making candles, doing meditation and yoga daily, and making meals from her organic garden, alongside her cute boyfriend Jimmy, seemed magical to me. From that point forward, I was hooked–on Yoga! Little did I know back then how much yoga, that seemed at first to be just another form of gymnastics to me, would evolve me emotionally and spiritually through the years.

Yoga has come a long way since the 70’s. Today, a yoga studio is as common a town feature as a local Starbucks. Deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and body treatments like Reiki are now part of mainstream culture and are here to stay. So, don’t think just because they get lumped into a health and therapy category called alternative health practices that they are less important to your well being.

Yoga and Mental Health

There is a growing body of research to back up yoga’s mental health benefits. Yoga increases body awareness, relieves stress, reduces muscle tension, strain, and inflammation, sharpens attention and concentration, and calms and centers the nervous system. Yoga’s positive benefits on mental health have made it an important practice tool of psychotherapy (American Psychological Association). Yoga has been shown to enhance social well being through a sense of belonging to others, and improve the symptoms of depression, attention deficit and hyperactivity, and sleep disorders. Also, yoga can improve symptoms of schizophrenia when it is done alongside drug therapy (Yoga and Mental Health, Huffington Post 2013).

Yoga has also been shown to increase the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a chemical in the brain that helps to regulate nerve activity.” This is especially relevant to people who have anxiety disorders. GABA activity is reduced in people with anxiety disorders who take psychiatric drugs that increase GABA activity to improve mood and decrease anxiety (Yoga and Your Mood, the Ultimate Yogi).

Yoga also improves the mood and behavior of high school students. One study found that in contrast to regular physical education (PE) classes, yoga classes helped high school students to regulate mood and behavior better, cope more effectively, control anger, and behave more mindfully than students taking PE alone.

But, let’s not stop there. Yoga’s benefits extend to adult caregivers who experience lower life satisfaction, depression, and stress and high levels of biological markers for inflammation. One study found that practicing a 12-minute daily eight week program of yoga exercise resulted in reducing markers of inflammation in adults taking care of loved ones stricken with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia (UCLA’s Late-Life Depress, Stress and Wellness Research Program).

It is clear that mind and body practices, like yoga, meditation, deep breathing and prayer reduce stress and improves stress-related nervous system imbalances (Psychological Benefits of Yoga). But, how do they do this? Is there one main mechanism at play here?

Researchers say it is the relaxation response that accompanies these mind and body practices that lead to the many improvements to physical and mental health. A new study from investigators at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) finds that the deep, physiological state of rest induced by such practices produces immediate positive change in the expression of genes involved in immune function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion (Genes and Physiological Pathways Altered in the Relaxation Response, Science Daily, May 2013).

What is a deep state of physiological rest? It is a change in calm and relaxation that takes place on a neurobiological level. Even having a good time out with friends or family is not enough to relax your biology on a cellular level. It takes a certain amount of brain and body stimulation to laugh, animatedly move our faces and bodies, and to listen and respond effectively to social cues. We need enough adrenaline pumping to our brain, heart and muscles to do this. So, you see, even socializing, playing an enjoyable game of tennis or golf, or shopping with a friend is actually a state of biochemical tension.  For the body to relax at the nerve and cellular level, we need to alter body processes that shift us biochemically from a state of excitement and tension to a state of calm, deep rest and relaxation. Only deep breathing that accompanies mind-body practices like yoga can do this.

The Physiology of Yoga

Dolphin Yoga Pose

Dolphin Yoga Pose

How could the holding of a physical pose, like dolphin pose, neurobiologically relax you and also strengthen the mind and body?

Yoga practice changes the firing patterns of the nerves and chemical makeup of the body’s fluids and blood gases that activates a relaxation response. By concentrating on carrying out the specific body posture and alignment of a pose and then holding it as you breathe deeply, the body starts to shift from a state of biochemical arousal and tension to calm and relaxation. Relaxing yourself deeply into a yoga pose through deep breathing lowers the brain’s response to threat. The body starts to turn off arousing nerve chemicals, like adrenaline and stops dumping fatty acids and sugar into the blood stream for brain, muscle and motor energy.  Also, sodium leaves the inside of the body’s cells. This slows down the rate of nerve firing and further relaxes your brain, heart and muscles. This state of biochemical relaxation oxygenates the blood, restores blood acidity and alkalinity balance, and reduces heart rate, blood pressure, and motor activity.

Yoga postures work on all systems of the body. Besides strengthening and elongating muscles, yoga postures tone up glands, internal organs, and spine nerves. Additionally, increased blood flow helps the digestive system to better extract nutrients from the foods you eat and the lymphatic system to eliminate toxins from the body.

Yoga: To Join and Unite

Undoubtedly, yoga practice improves quality of life. We learn to note differences between tense and calm body processes so that we can implement a change through yoga postures and deep breathing. But, the practice of yoga over time also has psychological and spiritual benefits.

In Sanskrit, yoga means to unite. As you grow in your ability to sense the relationship between your mind and body, you become more aware of dualities that exist in experience. The practice of yoga brings you to the awareness that there is a relationship between two ends of one phenomenon. You are body and mind. There is never a point in which you are just one or the other. Too, you are ego and spirit, tension and relaxation, pain and ease, balance and unsteadiness, love and hate, and separated and united.

What does this awareness do for you? When you realize that opposites are only different expressions of the same phenomenon, your treatment of them changes. At the simplest level, you see that when you treat the body you are also treating the mind. At a deeper level, you start to live in an integrated way.  You are not just a social identity, a personality ~ you are a public, relational, psychological and spiritual self. You begin to make choices that nurture and support your whole being. Is this food, relationship, lover or job good for me wholly? Do my choices positively affect and grow my whole being? These are the questions you begin to ask when you start growing in this overall awareness.

What is more, when you start taking responsibility for the whole of you, you stop locating problems as starting outside of yourself. You give meanings to experience that opens up choice, lets you problem solve, and allows you to keep growing.

Take A Yoga Stand, Today

Health is a state of complete harmony of body, mind, and spirit. When one is free of physical disabilities and mental distractions the soul opens. B.K.S. Iyengar

There’s no better time than right now to take a stand for Yoga. Yoga classes can vary from gentle and accommodating to strenuous and challenging. You want to choose your style of yoga by physical ability and personal preference. I’ve practiced yoga by guru B.K.S. Iyengar for 25+ years. It is a less common style of yoga done today. Hatha yoga is the most common type of yoga practiced in the United States. It combines three elements that include physical yoga poses called asanas, controlled breathing practiced in conjunction with the asanas, and a short period of deep relaxation.

But, not all yoga is relaxing. There are trendy forms of yoga today that emphasize nervous system activation rather than relaxation. Hot yoga (Bikram Yoga) is one of these yoga systems. Bikram Choudhury synthesized this system of yoga from traditional Hatha Yoga techniques. A Bikram Yoga class runs for 90 minutes, consists of the same series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, and is ideally practiced in a room heated to 105°F (≈ 40.6°C) with a humidity of 40%. I know many people who swear by this form of yoga. But, as you can imagine, hot yoga is not meant for beginners or especially for people whose physical or mental conditions make them especially sensitive to changes of temperature. Hot yoga and intense power yoga classes actually activate the excitatory nervous system (sympathetic nervous system) and induce a stress response in you. However, this response is theoretically followed by a deeper state of relaxation than if the nervous system had not been activated to a high point of stress and arousal at the start. The idea here is that the higher arousal the deeper the relaxation at rest.

Yoga is most definitely a business today. The upsurge in the popularity of yoga has created a demand for competent, trained, and certified yoga instructors (Yoga Alliance). Thus, make sure the studio you visit offers you the best in trainer certification, safety, and respect for individual differences in physical and mental health.

Choose a yoga class that fits with your physical ability and mental health needs. There are yoga classes for beginners and the advanced. There are also classes designed specifically for pregnant women, people experiencing pain from chronic physical or mental health illnesses, and the overweight or physically disabled.

As you can see, I’m a great fan of yoga for enhancing physical and mental health. Through the years, I’ve seen yoga benefit my life in many ways. I encourage you to take a Yoga Stand, today. You’ll be happy you did.

If you liked my post today, please let me know by selecting the Like icon that immediately follows. You can also Tweet or Google+1 the post to let your friends know about it. Do all you can to live well. As they say in Yoga ~ Namaste friends. Bow to the lord inside of you. Warmly Deborah.


23 Responses to “Take a Stand: Make YOGA Part of Your Program for Good Mental Health.”

  1. avatar shereen zaman khan says:

    thanks dr.Deborah,you are a doing an excellent job through this medium,i need your favour regarding yoga,here i dont have club or center to facilitate my self,you just send me yoga exercise through pics,i know its not easy job for you,but if you will do maybe not only me but some other people enjoy yoga.if not then please let me know about any good website.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Shereen, thank you for your kind words. They mean a lot to me. Yes, I will post pictures and sites on the facebook page for my site. Look there and I will post some today for you. Warmly Deborah.

  2. avatar ALI MEMON says:


  3. Everything connected with your writings and posts have enriched me and helped. Thank you!!!!

    • avatar Dr. Deborah says:

      Thank you very much Linda. I appreciate your kind words and so pleased that you are finding my posts help to enrich your life. Take good care. Warmly Deborah.

  4. avatar Deana says:

    I’ve been looking for a flying yoga class around my house for months. I’m dying to try it!

  5. avatar Umer says:

    dear dr….

    my age is 22…..when i meet my friends and fellows , i cant talk them in effective way,i cant answer them boldly, sometime i just show them a smile even if they have disgaced me. i have no thinking at all . if any one asks me about my vies about any thing, at that time i have nothing to share with them. also i am very weak in making decisions. all my fellows give no importance to me. plz dr. help me . i am a student of engineering and my last semester is going. and soon my professional life will start.
    also i read inspirational quotes and other things like that but they dont inspire me. i feel that i just read them and take no effect from them.
    i cant do discussions with my friends if i start , i give up may be because i have my no thinking and views at all.
    help me plz im in great trouble.
    best regards.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Umer, You sound very shy Umer and also unsure about yourself. Insecure, if you don’t mind me saying so. Umer you do have views and thinking—you just don’t know yourself well enough to know them yet. I want you to make a list of everything you like and enjoy. Also, make a list of what you value. Do you believe in God or do not believe? Whatever the answer is just write it down. Do you like engineering?

      Here’s a link to an article called–How well do you know yourself? On Psychology Today.com. The article gives you a list of questions to ask yourself. Begin there. Also, Umer, your school most likely has counselors. You might want to set up an appointment with a counselor and share with them what you tell me here. The reason why I recommend that you see a person to help you is because we also learn about who we are and what we think through other people, through talking and sharing–we hear ourselves and begin to know what we think, feel and believe,


      Best of luck to you Umer. Warmly deborah

      • avatar Umer says:

        let me tell u more about myself…..

        when i was in school , i had no friends, i remained alone from 6th to 10th class. that is a big period. also at home i had no one close to me . that lonliness made me close to GOD… I started Praying GOD….. upto intermediate i remained so…. alone but close to ALLAH…. after admission in university i carried on my connection with allah but sometimes i note that i just pray him , also when i make pray(DUA) i cant understand what i should pray to HIM, what should i ask to HIM…. am confused whether i believe in HIM or NOT….
        yup i Take interest in Engineering Labs…. I am more interested in practical knowledge rather than always reading books….one of the reasons behind engineering that i hated biology so i chose mathematics and i liked math . i never thought of making innovations , making something new etc etc. i liked math and hated bio. so i chose engineering related to math. no other reason behind doing engineering.

        thanx for link i will read it then i will ask u further…..
        May ALLAH always bless u…..

  6. avatar Amy says:

    Well Dr Deborah- so glad you paid attention and continued to grow! I did not and wish I would have-! Great article

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hi my dear friend. Oh, you have in so many ways. What a beautiful family, loving upstanding children you have raised and you have grown a beautiful, long marriage. I admire you greatly my friend. Always know this. You see by my story how much you and your family are still part of my consciousness. Much love Debbie.

  7. avatar RAZA says:

    plz send me compete methods of yoga

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello RAZA, thank you for reminding me to post examples on my Facebook page. I don’t know if I can give complete methods, because there are so many. But please visit my FaceBook page for Psychology in Everyday life and I will post some today. Warmly Deborah. Go to: http://www.facebook.com/DrDebKhoshabaBlog

  8. avatar shan says:

    hi doctor I have been always reading psychological issues especially those articles I am concerned about, but never got benefit from each of them. Then I went to see a doctor, the doctor only wrote me a prescription, but I didn’t got any reasonable benefit. Since I am an engineer I have to be more strong to overcome stresses related to my work, but when I am engaged in a trouble, I make a quick decision which always have been harming myself, immediateky I quit the job never think about what would I feel later. Actually I have many problems I think all are related to each other if one is solved I can overcome all these psychological problems. I have a very bad mood, my mood can change in a minute, people can harass me easily I can’t resist stresses nor problems, the worst issue is that I have low self-esteem sometimes , I am not a shy person but everywhere I choose one person as a strong person that I feel shy and low self-confidence with that person, this in turn makes to be unsuccessful on my job and seem useless. These feeling make me tired of life and can never improve my personal life because I have a low self-confidence , bad mood swing , and can not control my feelings.Sorry I wrote too long but there is still things that I can write, hope you will give some help.
    Best regards

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Shan, you have described what happens to you very well. You are describing an impulse control problem and mood problem that does not always let you think through and reason outcome of your actions. Shan, many people who have a mood and/or impulse control disorder have the very same problem. There is a part of our brain that lets us delay impulsive action (frontal lobes) through reasoning various outcomes of our behavior. But some mood disorders temporarily suspend our ability to use this part of our brain when we are highly emotional.

      Shan in general this problem is treated with medication. You could try to monitor your actions and moods but if the problem is biological this will be difficult. Sometimes, you may be able to do it and sometimes you won’t. I don’t know which medication the doctor tried. You may want to write me again and let me know. But, you can write me at: deborah@psychologyineverydaylife.net (so you can have privacy). Then, I can no what the doctor diagnosed you with through the medication that he or she tried.

      Also, with regard to low self-esteem. Shan, low self-esteem comes along with mood and impulse problems because when you regret your actions and see yourself act against what you know is good for you, then, you don’t feel good about yourself. What I’m saying is it is hard to separate out your low self-confidence and esteem from your biological mood and impulse problem. When the underlying problem is accurately treated, then, you will start to feel better and more confident about yourself. Because you will start acting for your good rather than against your well being. Shan, will you please write me at the address I posted in my response here. I can help you more there. I want you to have privacy when you tell me more about how you were treated, so I can suggest what you should do. Best to you. Warmly Deborah.

      • avatar shan says:

        hello Doctor, I already inboxed you related to the medication thank you so much for your kindness and help, but I don’t think I need to be treated by medication because by some social activities I feel comfortable and strong but when I am alone and out of that environment I feel uncomfortable and cannot perform my daily activities.

  9. avatar Muhammad Ilyas says:

    Thank you Dear Deborah, for your kind information. I really like your posts and it has given me a lot of information about understanding myself. Is there any mind exercise in yoga which improve my memory because i am a Ph.D student and i want to retain and improve my memory. thanks

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Muhammad, thank you. I’m so pleased that my posts have helped you to understand yourself better. This is why I started this blog. So thank you so much for letting me know. Muhammad, you ask a great question about yoga. All of the yoga postures are excellent for memory because they increase blood flow and refresh the body. In particular the shoulder stand, plow pose and fish pose are very good for relieving tension, relaxing the body and directing blood flow to the upper part of the body. You can find examples of these postures on the Web. Muhammad, I do the shoulder stand daily because of this! 🙂 Thank you again my friend. Warmly Deborah. Let me know how it goes. And, congratulations on your doctorate studies.

  10. avatar Manju says:

    Hi Dr. Khoshaba,

    I know you are aware of how much I enjoy yoga. So, I love that you posted information about and your experience with yoga. The practice truly does allow you to become one with yourself, but it does take time to reach that phase. And it really has become more than a practice of religion as some seem to think it to be.

    Thank you for your posting. It was a great read.



    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Manju, I read your comment several days ago but have not been able to respond. Thank you. I know you are a dedicated practitioner of yoga and meditation. You are so right that it takes time to reach the awareness phase–but the process is so rewarding. Yes–it is a way of life. Namaste dear Manju. Warmly Deborah.


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