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The Psychological Benefits of Yoga: Introducing Yoga For Anxiety

Earlier in this series, we reviewed the basics of what insomnia and depression are and how Yoga can help you overcome them, or at least alleviate some of their symptoms.

In this article, we’ll be going over anxiety.

What Is Anxiety?

We all feel anxious from time to time, but when the negative emotions that we feel become so major or inhibiting that they begin to have a noteworthy effect on one’s livelihood and relationships, it becomes a very serious mental disorder worthy of clinical attention and treatment.

Anxiety disorders are categorizable in many different forms: panic disorders, social anxiety disorders, specific phobias, and generalized anxiety.
The symptoms can range from feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness. Insomnia, cold and/or sweaty palms or feet. Shortness of breath with heart palpitations. Not being able to sit still or remain calm. Dry mouth. Numbness or tingling in the extremities, nausea, muscle tension, and dizziness (Goldberg, 2016).

What Does Anxiety Do To the Brain?

If you’re familiar with the concept of neuroplasticity, then you’ll know that the brain is actually a formable thing, just like a muscle. It literally takes shape as per how we use it over time (Prensky, 2001). What this means for people with psychiatric disorders is that the disorder leads them to use their brain in inadvertently harmful ways. For example, people with depression and ”
anxiety tend to “ruminate on why they’re so sad and/or fearful (Hellerstein, 2011). This is a large contributing factor as to why people suffering from disorders of the sort tend to have a weaker or smaller hippocampus (used for memory), anterior cingulate (used for conflict resolution), and the prefrontal cortex (used for planning and executing activities).

These parts of the brain literally change shape over time, depending upon how you use them. Along with this, negative emotions retained by people with an anxiety disorder continually release cortisol in the brain, the neurotransmitter of stress. Long-term stress also affects the brain in its own way, with multitudes of studies performed on how extended stress is actually a poison for both our brains and our bodies.

These parts of the brain literally change shape over time, depending upon how you use them. Along with this, negative emotions retained by people with an anxiety disorder continually release cortisol in the brain, the neurotransmitter of stress. Long-term stress also affects the brain in its own way, with multitudes of studies performed on how extended stress is actually a poison for both our brains and our bodies.

Chronic stress over long periods of time can (and literally does) shrink the physical size of the brain (Gregoire, 2014) and limits its capabilities, leading to drops in cognitive performance, such as IQ, which indirectly affects virtually every aspect of a person’s life.

Chronic stress over long periods of time can (and literally does) shrink the physical size of the brain (Gregoire, 2014) and limits its capabilities, leading to drops in cognitive performance, such as IQ, which indirectly affects virtually every aspect of a person’s life.

What Is Anxiety?

The entire point of modern day Yoga is to better one’s life by improving the health and fitness of the mind and body. This is accomplished by varying forms of meditation, isometric exercises, breathing techniques and more. Breathing is one of those bodily functions that we can both voluntarily and involuntarily control, depending on our mood and attention (Hayes, 2016); it’s one of the most overlooked aspects of health, yet it’s actually one of the (if not the) most important that so many of us take for granted. Shallow breathing, for example, is linked directly to the release of cortisol and epinephrine in the brain that stimulates feelings of fight or flight.
When you’re about to get into a fist fight, or if you’re running from a mugger or someone trying to sexually assault you, we enter a similar state of mind (if not the very same, depending on the severity of the disorder for the individual). A healthy dosage over a short period of time can give us bursts of strength, and mental focus, but other than that, they’re very toxic and disrupting. While this may serve an evolutionarily advantageous purpose for when one may find themselves in life or death situations, we can actually trick our brains into thinking that we’re still in these situations even when we’re not, which has lasting effects on our psychiatric health, as mentioned above.

In Yoga, you train yourself to maximize the effectiveness of your breathing, to slow down and to breathe with the full capacity of your torso, as you perform exercises that release positive counter neurotransmitters in the brain, such as endorphins and dopamine. Endorphins have several beneficial facets to their use that not only reduce stress but actual physical pain and cause feelings of euphoria that not only boost happiness and general positivity but also enhance brain functions and contributes to raises in IQ. Experienced runners often describe the feeling as “runner’s high”.

But besides just breathing and the benefits of its physical exercise, the meditative aspects of Yoga have a whole theme park of other elements to them that work together to improve the quality of one’s life. During meditation, you’re tasked to let go of mental attachments that people suffering from anxiety and depression may hold on to, and thus deliberate about in their minds, in a way that causes so much damage to begin with. This makes Yogic meditation medically therapeutic, and multiple studies have been done by doctors all around the world to support this fact.

…which is why it’s virtually impossible to tell about them all in a single article. This is merely an introductory article in an entire series that you should continue to read over time as they’re released, by following Kristina Kumlin on Facebook and Twitter, while signing up for her online classes!

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