It’s a very popular opinion that mental disorders in America are over-diagnosed and overmedicated. These days you’ll have a hard time finding a person who hasn’t been told they have some form of ADD, anxiety, autism, or something else. There is also, unfortunately, a negative stigma associated with such a diagnosis, so those who actually have these types of mental disorders may find themselves feeling alienated from others.
Yoga can be an incredible tool for self-growth, empowerment, healing, and health for those with mental disorders. For example, those with ADHD may find that the practice helps them quiet the loud thoughts in their heads and focus on what’s important.
Below are 6 common mental disorders and how yoga can help with each.
1. ADD/ADHD: Calm the Mind and Find Your Focus
There have been a number of studies that show yoga can improve the symptoms of those with attention-deficit-disorder. A study done in India in 2012 showed significant improvement in students involved in a program called Climb-Up. This was a “peer-mediated interventional program consisting of yoga, meditation and play therapy” taught to children with ADHD by local high school volunteers.
After a year of the program being implemented, parent evaluations showed that 91% of student’s symptoms decreased. This is one of a few studies that show the possibilities yoga has on concentration and mental well-being.
2. Anxiety/Depression: The Science Behind the Calming Effects of Yoga
Yoga has been linked to increased GABA receptors in the brain. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a brain chemical that regulates nerve activity. Generally, those who suffer from anxiety, depression, or even seizures, have low GABA and generally take medication to mimic this action.
Boston University conducted a study in 2010 that compared the MRIs of a group of walkers versus a group of yogis. After weeks of equal exertion, the yogis showed higher GABA level. While this is still new research, it sheds a positive light on the mind and body connection that yogis swear by.
3. Addiction: Find the Strength to Overcome
This topic hits home for many people, and it is estimated that 28 million people (worldwide) struggled with drug abuse. Some may disagree on whether it should be listed as a mental disorder, but according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse,
“Addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways, disturbing a person’s normal hierarchy of needs and desires and substituting new priorities connected with procuring and using the drug.”
Even the American Psychiatric Association classifies addiction as a “brain disease.”
The results of a steady yoga practice – self-awareness, confidence, self-care and self-love – can all aid in addiction recovery. Yoga cultivates personal development. It increases emotional stability and health on a physical and mental level as well.
Perhaps this is why there are now many non-profits, community outreach programs, and inpatient treatment facilities offering yoga as a therapeutic treatment. One such organization is the Trini Foundation, which is dedicated to bringing the healing powers of yoga to those suffering from addiction.
4. Autism: Find a Practice That Fits You
Yoga therapy, when integrated into daily play, could ease some of a child’s autism symptoms. The Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine found significant improvement in their students after two years of yoga therapy.
By the end of the testing period, all six kids were able to sit still on their mat, keep eye contact and smile, clearly imitate sound from their therapist, and verbally end the class with a “Namaste.”
Shawnee Thornton Hardy published an article in Autism Parenting Magazine saying,
“In addition to benefits typically associated with yoga such as increased strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility, benefits such as increased social-emotional skills, language and communication, body awareness, self-regulation, focus and concentration and a reduction in anxiety, impulsive, obsessive, aggressive and self-stimulatory behaviors have also been noted.”
If this type of specialized yoga class is out of your grasp, the internet is filled with books, articles, videos, and other resources.
5. Eating Disorders: A Community of Support
Yoga for those with eating disorders is perhaps more of an exercise in self-love than anything else. In the article Thinking Through the Body: The Conceptualization of Yoga as Therapy for Individuals With Eating Disorders, Laura Douglas writes,
“The aim of yoga is to understand the nature of regular human suffering, which is often overlaid on top of, or underneath, eating disorders.”
Yoga allows us to take a step back and focus on more holistic well-being. For those who suffer from body image issues, eating disorders, or even compulsive exercising, the communal support found in a yoga studio or class setting becomes much more important than the physical practice.
Yoga is an amazing safe place to find comfort, and is also an outlet to work through an eating disorder in healthy and empowering way. A steady yoga practice makes you feel in full control, and helps keep destructive thoughts at bay.
6. Schizophrenia: The Power of Asana and Tranquility of Pranayama
Pranayama is conscious breathwork that often accompanies the yoga practice. A regular asana (physical yoga pose) and/or pranayama practice has shown to be a positive add-on treatment in conjunction with medications and/or other treatments.
The International Journal of Yoga highlights several recent studies related to yoga therapy for Schizophrenia that show positive results.
Part of the study’s findings where how the mind/body connection that stems from yoga seems to help alleviate symptoms more than strictly physical methods of exercise.