The psychological benefits of yoga

Stress-related psychological conditions can be effectively treated through yoga, new research has suggested. Published in Medical Hypotheses, the study found the activity can bring positive benefits for those suffering from depression, anxiety, cardiac disease and high blood pressure.

Chris Streeter, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, which is a private and not-for-profit organisation, stated: "Western and Eastern medicine complement one another. Yoga is known to improve stress-related nervous system imbalances."

Mr Streeter - who worked alongside investigators from New York Medical College and the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons on the report - explained the pastime can serve to make patients feel better by relieving symptoms related to many common disorders.

It is hoped the findings may be used to help come up with specific mind-and-body practices aimed at both the prevention and treatment of these issues, which can be adopted in conjunction with methods already widely used.

Dr Kate Sparks, Chartered Psychologist, commented: "Yes yoga is very good for some psychological conditions. The practice of concentrating on the breath and concentrating on the body helps to calm the mind as it helps to switch the focus away from the constant chatter and worries of the mind, bringing the person into being aware in the 'present moment' as opposed to the thinking of the past or the future.

"This is very much akin to the mindfulness approach which is becoming very popular, particularly in pain management. Yoga is a form of mindfulness.

"Yoga can also help to increase bodily awareness and thereby help an individual to learn to recognise when they are feeling stressed or holding themselves in a state of tension (not helping their high blood pressure or heart condition!) and using some of the breathing techniques taught in yoga (pranayama) can help themselves to reduce this tension and relax.

"As a very gentle form of exercise (compared with some of the more aerobic, dynamic forms of yoga like ashtanga that celebrities like Madonna practice) incorporating stretching and deep breathing it can enhance psychological wellbeing, not only because it is exercise (with the established evidence of the benefits of exercise for wellbeing) but also because the stretching and deep breathing increase oxygen supply to different parts of the body, helping ease tension and improves circulation ultimately influencing well-being."