Therapeutic Yoga

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What is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient practice rooted in Indian philosophy that is at least 3,000 years old. Yoga, from the root word “yuj” in Sanskrit, means unity or “to unite”. Ancient Hindu texts mention yoga as a practice to control the body and thereby the mind. This is part of the union which is being referred to. The unity between mind and body as well as man’s unity with his fellows and with nature and all of creation. For our purposes, yoga is a very useful tool for healing.

In fact, the benefits of yoga have been thoroughly researched and well documented. As an evidence-based therapeutic activity, it is part of The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center wellness-centered curriculum. At its core, yoga consists of exercises and positions for stretching and strengthening the body, improving circulation and muscle tone and even stimulating the production of hormones and endorphins. There is much more to yoga than simply the exercises, but we will focus on the physical aspects as they pertain to our program.

Therapeutic Yoga is an Evidence-Based Practice

Yoga has long been recognized as beneficial to physical health, but it has also been shown to improve mental health and contribute to a sense of balance and well-being. It delivers a combination of benefits that perhaps no other single exercise can. It fits wonderfully into a mental health treatment environment because it provides gentle, but effective exercise that is accessible to almost anyone of any age or level of physical ability. More than that, it is calming and centering which is especially helpful to people who are receiving treatment for mental health or substance use disorders.

Therapeutic yoga has been shown to reduce anxiety, which is one of the most common symptoms faced by people with either mental health or substance use disorders. The breathing exercises in therapeutic yoga, such as pranayama have clear benefits for relaxation. Yoga philosophy teaches that the physical age of the body is tied to the flexibility of the spine and there is scientific evidence to support this notion. As an exercise, yoga is as safe and low-impact as it gets, but it can also be strenuous enough to be all the exercise a person needs. A look at the physique of any serious, long-time yoga practitioner will tell you that before you even have had a chance to review the stacks of empirical data on the subject.

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Specific Benefits from Therapeutic Yoga

Yoga has been shown to lower blood pressure and stress hormones like cortisol and even increase GABA levels naturally, which contributes to a sense of calm and well-being. It has been recognized as a useful, evidence-based practice by The American Psychological Association, among others. Practicing yoga outside of a treatment setting is often a communal activity in a classroom setting which offers opportunities to meet other wellness-minded individuals to help build a healthy social circle. As a hobby or devotion, yoga seems uniquely suited to people who are focused on healing either the body or the mind (or both). There’s no wonder why it is so heartily recommended by doctors and therapists across the country and around the world.

Yoga improves physical health by:

  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Reducing stress-related muscle tension
  • Improving digestion and elimination
  • Relieving chronic pain
  • Improving sleep

Yoga improves mental health by:

  • Producing GABA, which enhances calm and relaxation
  • Improving the mind-body connection
  • Raising awareness of body position and posture
  • Improving focus and consciousness
  • Improving sleep health
  • Reducing anxiety

Chronic Pain is Helped by Therapeutic Yoga

Another benefit of therapeutic yoga is that it has been shown to be useful in pain management. A 2020 report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality evaluated 10 studies of therapeutic yoga for back pain (involving 1,520 total participants) and found that yoga reduced pain and function in both the short term (1 to 6 months) and intermediate term (6 to 12 months).

The effects of therapeutic yoga were similar to those of exercise. Therapeutic yoga has also been shown to reduce chronic or episodic headaches and neck pain and even osteoarthritis. Not only do the health benefits help reduce inflammation and chronic pain, but reducing chronic pain provides obvious benefits to mental health.

We Can Help

If you or someone you love needs help with a mental health disorder or substance abuse, The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center can help. Give us a call at (954) 758-4174

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