Can Yoga Help Treat Mental Illness?


Mental disorders have been described as one of the most devastating disorders of mankind for two reasons. The first is its relatively widespread incidence, i.e., one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health worldwide.

The other reason is the extent to which it renders a person incapable of taking care of him/herself. Treatments are available, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional. Stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders, says the World Health Organization (WHO).

With the growing awareness of the physical and mental of benefits of Yoga, people from various backgrounds and of all age groups are embracing the practice of Yoga. But is the practice of Yoga asana alone enough? Which style of Yoga should one practice to combat mental health and behavioural problems like depression, anxiety, addiction, etc.

Today, major depression s thought to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the burden of suicide. If Yoga can help, then it is imperative to understand the mechanisms that work in making yoga effective for mental disorders/mental health.

Is Yoga Better Than Therapy?

Yoga is a beneficial form of exercise, and depending on the type of yoga that you practice, it can help with a variety of mental and physical health concerns. Yoga helps with strength training, mindfulness, anxiety, and depression — it is a versatile practice and is indeed helpful for your mind, body and spirit. However, hearing these things, you might wonder whether or not yoga can act as a substitute for mental health treatment. Is it possible that your anxiety can be entirely relieved by practicing yoga?

Yoga is wonderful, but so is therapy (in a different way)

Practicing yoga is a beautiful thing to do for your health. However, if you are experiencing severe mental health issues such as debilitating depression or panic attacks, mania, or hallucinations, yoga is not going to cure your mental health problems. Yoga can certainly help you relieve stress and can calm your mind and body, but it will not remedy severe mental health issues. Yoga does have a place in your life if you choose to practice, but your practice will benefit you in different ways.

Different forms of yoga

There are many different forms of yoga – for example, hatha yoga helps you calm your body, as it is meditative, and the pace is slow. Bikram yoga (or hot yoga) is about flexibility and allowing your body to relax in an extremely hot setting. Vinyasa yoga is trendy and is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise. These are just a few examples of the different types of yoga to practice that can help you feel better about your health.

Yoga as personalized self-care

Yoga is not a one-size-fits-all practice, but rather, it is individualized based on what you need in your life. It can help your health tremendously, but it has to work with your personality and lifestyle. There are a lot of myths about yoga when it comes to what it can and cannot do. It is absolutely an excellent form of self-care, but it is not a substitution for mental health treatment. However, it is a complementary practice that can enhance your mental health.

Yoga as a compliment to therapy

Going to therapy helps your mind, as you can discuss your problems and get things off of your chest. It’s important to be able to talk about these things with people who are objective. Do you want to express your feelings and feel like there is a person on the other end that can hear you? Your friends and family are not objective – that’s why seeing a counselor can help you a great deal.

For anxiety in particular, yoga can be a great complementary practice in addition to going to therapy. If you’re having trouble detaching from worrying, yoga can assist with that – your instructor can show you techniques to meditate and let go of your obsessive thoughts. They will always come into your mind, but you can choose what you do with the intrusive thoughts that you have.

Having physical distractions is a great way to cope with anxiety rather than ruminating on your problems. Yoga can assist you as a tangible form of deflection from your anxiety. Sometimes, distraction is a good thing.

Yoga and therapy have overlapping similarities

Just like therapy, yoga has a learning curve. When you go to treatment, it’s individual regarding your progress. You learn on your timeline, and there is no right or wrong way to figure out how to cope with your emotional problems. The same thing goes for yoga. There’s nobody keeping track of your progress except for you.

In a good yoga class, the teacher will not pressure you to do something that you’re not ready to do. In therapy, an excellent practitioner will not push you to go to an emotional place that you’re not prepared to handle.

For example, somebody who has severe trauma should not confront their traumatic memories if they’re not ready to do it. They could put themselves in physical and emotional danger by doing so. Similarly, somebody who is practicing yoga that doesn’t have the foundation to do a shoulder stand or a headstand could seriously injure themselves. It isn’t worth it to push your body to a place that it’s not ready to visit.

Yoga and therapy have a lot in common. They are incredibly individual, and your journey is your own in both places.

Find the right type of yoga and the proper form of therapy

Similar to yoga, there are many types of counseling or therapy. Not every kind of mental health treatment will work for everyone. If you expect cognitive behavioral therapy to work for one person, that could be realistic. However, if you anticipate it working for hundreds of people in the same way, that’s not realistic.

Different forms of therapy will suit varying mental health issues. For somebody who has PTSD, they will benefit more from EMDR therapy than they would from psychodynamic treatment. Similarly, somebody who is practicing Hatha yoga who wants learn mindfulness will benefit more from this practice than they would from engaging in Vinyasa yoga, which is more about exercise, and getting your body up and moving. Someone who is doing meditative yoga isn’t concerned with getting their heart rate going.

You’ll find the right fit of yoga to go along with your therapy

You may not know what kind of yoga you want to practice, but that’s okay! You also may not know what kind of therapy is going to work for you and that’s okay, too. Sometimes, it’s about trial and error and seeing what resonates with you.

You may connect with a particular form of yoga and find it to be liberating, but it might not feel the same for somebody else. Similarly, you might see an excellent connection and relationship with one specific counselor or therapist and find that another counselor doesn’t give you the same level of support. It’s an individual preference.

There are a lot of overlapping similarities between yoga and therapy, but as mentioned previously, yoga isn’t better or worse than treatment. While they can complement one another, they are used for different things. If you’re struggling with your mental health and you want to get support, don’t be afraid to reach out and find a therapist. Whether you work with an online counselor or someone near your local area, you deserve to get well.

By Marie Miguel

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

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  1. There are many different forms of yoga like Hatha yoga, Bikram yoga, Vinyasa yoga. I was not having any knowledge about it before reading your article I practice all these yoga that helps me feel better about my health. Thank you so much for sharing this article with us.

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