Yoga and Mental Health: How Yoga Impacts our Neurotransmitters

At the Yoga For Good Foundation, we often mention how great yoga is for our minds and our sense of wellbeing. But what does that actually mean? And what’s the science behind it? Today, on ‘R U OK?’ Day, we’re doing a deep dive into what actually goes on in our brain when we practice yoga and why it has such a positive impact on our mental health.

Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years, and its benefits extend far beyond flexibility and stress relief. One of the most significant benefits aspects of yoga is its impact on our neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are essentially chemical messengers that play a pivotal role in our mental and emotional well-being. Below, we’ve explained how yoga influences these chemical messengers and why this matters for our overall health.

Understanding Neurotransmitters

Before delving into the connection between yoga and neurotransmitters, it’s essential to grasp the role neurotransmitters play in our bodies. These chemical messengers are responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells, facilitating communication in the nervous system. Neurotransmitters influence various functions, including mood, memory, and motor skills. Three particular neurotransmitters are strongly associated with yoga’s effects: serotonin, dopamine, and GABA.

Serotonin: The Bliss Molecule

Serotonin is often referred to as the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter. It’s crucial for regulating mood, emotions, and sleep patterns. Low serotonin levels are linked to depression and anxiety. Yoga practices, such as asanas (physical postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation, can increase serotonin production. Regular yoga practice has been shown to elevate serotonin levels, promoting feelings of wellbeing, and reducing symptoms of mood disorders.

Dopamine: The Reward and Pleasure Neurotransmitter

Dopamine is responsible for feelings of reward, motivation, and pleasure. It plays a vital role in addiction, as substances like drugs and alcohol can flood the brain with dopamine, leading to dependency. Yoga, on the other hand, provides a healthier way to boost dopamine levels. The physical and mental challenges of yoga postures and meditation stimulate the release of dopamine, creating a natural sense of reward and accomplishment. This can help individuals find joy and satisfaction in their practice and daily lives.

GABA: The Anxiety Reducer

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety. Low GABA levels are associated with conditions like anxiety disorders and insomnia. In fact, a study published in the “Journal of Clinical Psychology” in 2020 showed that regular yoga practice improved sleep quality and reduced insomnia symptoms in individuals with insomnia disorder. Yoga, especially practices focused on deep breathing and meditation, has been shown to increase GABA levels. By calming the mind and promoting a sense of inner peace, yoga helps individuals manage stress and anxiety effectively. Another review published in the “Journal of Clinical Psychology” in 2018 analysed multiple studies and concluded that yoga is effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety disorders.

The Mind-Body Connection

Yoga’s impact on neurotransmitters is not limited to the chemical level. The mind-body connection that yoga emphasizes plays a significant role in neurotransmitter regulation. When we practice yoga, we engage both our physical bodies and our minds. This holistic approach fosters harmony between our physical and mental states, allowing neurotransmitters to function optimally.

Women silently and seriously doing meditation

The Stress-Reduction Factor

One of the most evident ways yoga affects neurotransmitters is through its stress-reduction capabilities. Chronic stress can disrupt neurotransmitter balance, leading to mood disorders and other health problems. Yoga’s relaxation techniques, including deep breathing and meditation, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which counters the stress response. By reducing stress, yoga helps maintain the delicate balance of neurotransmitters in the brain.

Yoga is a powerful tool for improving not only our physical health but also our mental and emotional well-being. Its influence on neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, can significantly impact our mood, stress levels, and overall mental health. By practicing yoga regularly, individuals can harness the mind-body connection and promote the healthy regulation of these essential chemical messengers.

In a world where stress and mental health challenges are prevalent, incorporating yoga into our daily routines can be a transformative step towards achieving a more balanced and harmonious life. So, the next time you roll out your yoga mat, remember that you’re not only stretching your body; you’re also nurturing your neurotransmitters and promoting a happier, healthier you.

For more insights into the benefits of yoga, free yoga classes and tips for practicing, stay up to date with our Yoga For Good Foundation blog. And if you haven’t signed up for our monthly community classes, you can register for free here.

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22nd March 2024 12:30pm (AEDT)

Hatha Community Class with Ahimsa Helen Cushing

Ahimsadhara is an expert teacher and author in yoga for trauma survivors. After teaching War Veterans for many years, she is now focusing on international programs and further writing. In this class, she uses asanas to help with healthy breathing and as a preparation for pranayama and yoga nidra.

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Angela is an experienced Yogi and Dru Teacher Trainer, environmental campaigner, peace educator, and avid traveller, always seeking the best methods to promote health through Dru Yoga’s practices. Join Angela on the mat for a simple journey through energy block release, alignment with sequence, asana and mudra to leave you feeling refreshed, inspired and welcoming change.

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