Yoga is an ancient, multi-layered practice that promotes personal growth.
Although it is unclear how yoga can improve your well-being or alleviate specific mental and physical ailments, research has shown that it can be beneficial.
This review highlights significant areas in which yoga can affect the mind, body, and soul. It also sets the stage for further investigation.
Yoga in Sickness, Health, and Yoga
Pascoe (2021) and his colleagues recently reviewed research that shows different types of yoga can increase mindfulness and spiritual well-being and alleviate symptoms such as anxiety, stress, depression, and pain in clinical populations. They also note studies showing that yoga can decrease stress levels and improve well-being in non-clinical populations. Research is complicated by the many types of yoga incorporating different approaches and practices.
Researchers included 22 studies from several databases to identify a wide range of articles. The authors should have evaluated the methods of the studies as their goal was to review the current literature. They identified common mechanisms that could explain yoga’s physiological effects.
Areas where yoga may affect psychobiological functions
Interoception Our ability to perceive our internal state is key to our health and our ability to have healthy relationships with our bodies, especially in times of trauma. A mindfulness-based interoceptive awareness is associated with better control and other benefits. Smaller studies show that yoga can help people develop interoceptive awareness. More research is needed to understand the relationship between yoga and interception.
Self-Compassion: When we feel insecure, self-criticism, or suffering, self-compassion helps us to be kind to ourselves. It also helps to ground us and encourages positive self-parent behavior, which is beneficial for our well-being. There were many studies that linked yoga to increased self-compassion. Researchers suggest that confronting fears of compassion may help people make significant progress.
Emotional regulation: Managing difficult emotions is a key skill in self-regulation. It works with reflective function and executive skills to ensure that we can use our resources best during times of stress or repose. The authors did not find large studies on yoga and emotional regulation, but they found two small studies that showed improvements in this area among yoga practitioners and adolescents.
Avoidance/Exposure Avoidance is a key feature of maladaptive reactions to trauma. It prevents triggers from happening and makes it difficult to adapt to traumatic reminders. 2
Rumination An Excessive attention to unpleasant thoughts, memories, or experiences is linked to a weaker ability to cope with trauma and distress. The ability to think clearly, make sense of thoughts, deal with emotions, and then move on is helpful. This is resilience. Excessive rumination can be reduced by practicing self-compassion. Although the literature on yoga and excessive rumination has not been conclusive, a small controlled study indicates that there may be some benefits for women suffering from depression.
Meta-Cognition: Related to emotion regulation, executive function, and mentalization–the ability to accurately sense others’ inner states–meta-cognition refers to being able to partially detach from thoughts and feelings, to “let go” of distress and hold suffering more lightly, as well as to reflect upon such experiences mentally, make sense of them, and keep them in context. It has been proven that yoga can increase meta-cognition about physical sensations, particularly pain. Although there is not much research into yoga’s meta-cognition, one MSBR study that included Hatha yoga showed an increase in meta-cognition among depressed patients.
Attention and Memorization: Improving cognitive ability can lead to positive changes that contribute to a good executive function when deploying resources. It is important to be able to remember and focus on plans and goals, which can help with changing habits, making better decisions when you are sick, and maintaining healthy routines. Multiple studies have shown that yoga can improve working memory, attention, and inhibition control. Some studies have not shown that yoga can improve memory. This could be due to improvements in sleep, neural communication, mood, and other factors.
Blood Pressure Hypertension is a condition in which blood pressure rises to dangerous levels. Low blood pressure is associated more with low-stress levels, and lower blood pressure can lead to a relaxation response and better health outcomes. Numerous studies have shown that yoga has a limited effect on blood pressure. This includes mindfulness and aerobic exercise.
Heart rate: Like high blood pressure, an increased heart rate can be associated with stress reactions (both acute and chronic) and positive excitement and arousal. Yoga has been shown to modestly lower your heart rate in several studies.
Heart Rate Variability Many studies of yoga have shown positive effects on HRV measures. These effects are attributed to increased parasympathetic activity through vagal effects and improved cardiac parameters. This is reflected in HRV analysis (i.e., Increases in low-frequency HRV may be associated with greater parasympathetic response and have benefits that go beyond exercise.
Inflammation More research has shown that inflammation and immunological reactions are key contributors to a wide range of diseases, including those affecting central nervous systems.
Hormone: Hormone is elevated in acute stress and dysregulated in chronic stress. Acute stress allows for short-term adaptive sympathetic nervous system responses, which allow for rapid activity. Chronic activation of the stress response system “burns down” responsiveness, which is a common feature in many psychiatric disorders. While some yoga studies showed positive effects on cortisol levels of depressed patients, others didn’t. The research found that yoga programs that include the eight components mentioned above may have a greater effect on cortisol levels and stress response than exercise alone.
Neurobiology Bringing together many of these factors, changes to the brain structure, including changes in grey matter volume and function, can be a reflection of mental capacities and are related to physiological changes, including stress regulation. Only a few studies have examined the effects of yoga on brain function and structure. A few studies have examined the effects of yoga on brain structure and/or function. To increase resilience, yoga and breathwork may also have a positive impact on key neurotransmitter levels.
The Future of Yoga Research
The narrative analysis covered the state of yoga research in psychology and physiology. It did not attempt to review high-quality studies. It serves to guide future research and create a reference map rather than provide conclusive findings. For more nuanced, readers can refer to the original study, which cites specific studies, and identifies whether the work was controlled or open, or randomized.
Yoga’s potential benefits on stress response may be multifactorial. They relate to changes in physiological and psychological stress responses, which can lead to systemic changes in mind and body function and how we interact with the environment. This helps to create a better overall ecology for complex lives for those who find yoga a good fit.