Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/21/2022
You’ve probably heard that exercise has benefits that go beyond your physical health. In fact, it’s been shown to reduce depression and anxiety.
Well, it turns out that yoga specifically has some benefits worth considering. So much so that “yoga therapy” has become a thing.
Interested in downward dogging your way into a better state of mind? Well, let’s have a look.
According to The International Association for Yoga Therapists, yoga therapy involves the adaptation of yoga principles and practices to help people with their physical and emotional health. Beyond the physical practice of yoga, breathing techniques and meditation may be incorporated into yoga therapy.
Yoga therapy may be used on its own or as a part of more traditional talk therapy. The thinking here is that yoga unites the mind and body, allowing you to better connect with your internal feelings.
As for who yoga therapy may help, it’s believed that it may be a useful tool for:
People who tend to dissociate
Those who deal with anxiety
Individuals who have experienced trauma
Men and women who lack self-esteem
This is because yoga therapy can encourage people to stay present in their body, quiets the mind and encourages a sense of empowerment through one’s body.
Wondering what a yoga therapy session may look like? There are a variety of things that may occur.
For example, a yoga therapist may lead you through alternate nostril breathing. With this, you’ll be instructed to use your finger to close up one side of your nose (by pushing your nostril down) and breathing through the unclosed nostril.
Then, to exhale, you’ll switch — closing the nostril that had been open and breathing out through the one you had just closed.
The thinking is that this breathing technique can help you regulate your emotions.
Some yoga moves sometimes used in yoga therapy include cat-cow (where you get on all fours and round your back and then arch your back) and a seated twist (where you twist your torso one way and then another while in a seated position).
It’s believed that these motions are physical manifestations of opening yourself up and being vulnerable, which may help some do that emotionally, too.
Yoga therapy has been shown to have a number of potential benefits — including some that are psychological.
Literature currently suggests that working with a yoga therapist can increase alertness and positive feelings, while decreasing negative feelings of aggressiveness, depression and anxiety.
A 2021 systematic review suggested that yoga can help treat mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and more.
Another metaanalysis of the literature, done in 2011, found that yoga can be a good complementary form of therapy in the treatment of mental health illnesses.
It’s important to note that more research is needed to draw any conclusive opinions about the benefits of yoga therapy.
In general, exercise is thought to have some really positive effects on mental health. Studies have even found that it can reduce anxiety and depression.
Similarly, yoga therapy is a tool that can help some people both physically and emotionally. By engaging in the practice of yoga — the physical moves, breathing exercises and the mindfulness that’s a part of it — it’s believed that people can create a bigger mind-body connection.
This can help people who have a tendency to dissociate as the result of things like trauma or stress because it encourages them to stay present in their body.
Beyond that, there’s some evidence to suggest that yoga therapy can help people dealing with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and more.
It can be used on its own, but more often, yoga practice may be used as an adjunct therapy in conjunction with other forms of treatment.
If you’re interested in trying yoga therapy, it’s best to speak with a mental health professional. They will be able to discuss it more in depth and could potentially provide you with the resources to find a therapist trained in therapeutic yoga.