Mental Health

8 Benefits of Yoga for Mental Health

The practice of yoga encourages us to be compassionate to others and most importantly to ourselves.

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It’s International Day of Yoga today, and I can think of no better way to celebrate than to discuss the top benefits of yoga in eating disorder recovery.

Maybe you’re new to yoga, or perhaps you’re a seasoned veteran. Or maybe you’re just curious. What’s it all about? Will, I suit it? No matter your experience or thoughts, this blog post will open your eyes to many benefits of yoga in recovery. Even if you’ve been taking it to the mat since the ’90s, you never know, you might learn something new!

What is yoga?

I began my yoga journey in March this year. I’d heard so much about the benefits of yoga that it sounded like it might be the only thing to finally change my mindset. Currently, I practice at least 4 times a week, sometimes more depending on time and my condition. I’ve found it to be so empowering, moving and, at times, emotional!

I never thought I would cry in child’s pose, but here we are!

Yoga is the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ meaning ‘to bind‘. It can also be interpreted as ‘union’. Either way, it’s clear that yoga brings a sort of togetherness. Personally, I take it that this means it meshes our minds, bodies, and souls into one, allowing us to be entirely one with ourselves.

Yoga is more than just postures and stretches.

We connect our breathing up with the movement of our bodies, and the swift, gentle progression from one post to the next is dictated by our breath.

There are so many benefits of yoga that it would be impossible to include them all into a simple blog post. In order to keep this somewhat short, I’ve plucked my top 8 from the pile of many:

1. Yoga teaches us Compassion

The practice of yoga encourages us to be compassionate to others and most importantly to ourselves.

Whether we’re in the midst of mental illness or knee-deep in recovery, self-hate, and ridicule are common themes. It’s a welcome change to be fed positive messages about ourselves when all we want to do is internally put ourselves down.

The first time I sat through an instructional yoga video with Adriene Mishler, I was so comforted. Don’t get me wrong, I was slightly taken back and felt a little silly at being told I’m wonderful by a stranger, much less a stranger on TV. But the more I practiced and the more I allowed myself to repeat those words with the abandon of what anyone else might think, the more I began to believe them.

During Adriene’s practice, she fills you with praise, telling you how wonderful it is that you took this time to be with yourself. The best part is that this isn’t just an Adriene thing. Many other yoga instructors do this and the reason behind it? To verbally tell us that we are doing amazing things, we are good enough.

Self-compassion is so important in recovery because so often we get so caught up in the negative aspects of ourselves–or what the voice will have us believe is negative–that it can become difficult to see the positive.

2. Yoga reduces stress

You’ve heard it said so many times: “You’re stressed? Try some yoga!”

In the past, I would have rolled my eyes. I could never shut my mind off long enough to do yoga. I’d be no good; I would just spend the whole time thinking about what I needed to do next. If I’m honest at the start I did rush through practice in order to get to my next task.

Yoga was just first on the long list of tick boxes I needed to fill.

However, once you allow yoga into your life and give yourself the time to sit with it, the changes can be amazing.

Studies have been conducted on the benefits of yoga for combating stress and the results leave little to the imagination. A medical study conducted on 24 emotionally distressed women found that in just 3 months of solid practice, their cortisol levels had been lowered significantly. This is just one of many studies conducted on the subject of yoga and mental health.

3. Yoga reduces anxiety

During eating disorder recovery, anxiety can be at an all-time high. You are faced with so many terrifying things in the eyes of anorexia, your heart starts to pound at the mention of ‘Christmas dinner‘ or ‘office party‘ and panic often follows.

Yoga has been proven to relieve anxiety symptoms through a variety of studies on various groups of people.

Through the practice of yoga, our muscles are stretched and our minds are open, often relieving the pressure for that we hold within ourselves.

Harmful thinking patterns and perpetual overthinking are all too common or those suffering from mental illness.

Through meditation and focusing on our breathing, we are encouraged to let go of those thoughts and to allow our bodies and minds to become one.

In general, the practice of yoga can trigger the relaxation response, which is the opposite to fight or flight. This allows our bodies to relax, and fall into a state of calm.

4. Yoga allows us to practice at home

Yoga isn’t the only thing that allows us to practice in the comfort of our own homes, but it’s certainly the easiest. The reason I mention this is because sometimes the thought of going to a class can be anxiety-inducing. Why? Because we’re afraid of the judgement of others. It’s simple.

Practising at home using a guide on your TV or through the use of a book allows us to practice in a safe, familiar space. Personally, I use Yoga With Adriene and Dionne Elizabeth on YouTube when I feel that I need guided practice. On other occasions, I use the book Yoga Your Home Practice Companion. This guide has done wonders in teaching me all about yoga, the benefits of certain poses and nutrition. It has helped me cater to what I need out of yoga, which can change on a daily basis. It can even be used alongside the YouTuber’s mentioned in that it helps me understand why this pose will help me, and how to carry it out correctly.

5. Yoga helps us to sleep

Insomnia and sleep disturbances often accompany those suffering from mental illness such as depression and anxiety. Through the use of several studies, it’s been determined that Yoga could be the key to getting a full, and restful nights sleep.

After just 8 weeks of consistent study the following improvements were found in the 20 insomniac participants;

  • Wake up time
  • The time it took to fall asleep
  • Sleep Efficiency
  • Total sleep time
  • Total wake time

The relaxation aspect of yoga gives our minds and bodies time to wind down, so if you have issues sleeping it’s best to practice yoga before hitting the hay.

6. Yoga aids digestion

Your gut is known, notoriously, as the second brain. A large part of your digestive system is aligned with your mental state, making it sensitive to intense emotions, stress and anxiety. It’s no wonder that I suffered from severe tummy troubles over the course of the last year!

Yoga helps us to relieve symptoms of indigestion, constipation, bloating, and general discomfort in the same way that it alleviates mental distress–by instilling a sense of calm and relaxation.

Not only this, but certain poses help create reactions within our bodies. Twisting your body poses help to relieve or ‘wring out‘ the digestive tract. This is similar to wringing out a wet dishcloth if you know what I mean!

7. Yoga improves strength & flexibility

Many people take up yoga to improve their overall strength and flexibility, without being too strenuous on our bodies. During recovery from an eating disorder, specifically anorexia nervosa, it’s not advised to take part in any exercise that runs the risk of burning excessive calories. During recovery in my teens, I wasn’t even allowed to walk.

Yoga allows us to exercise in a way that doesn’t focus on the calories you burn or the hours spent on the treadmill.

It focuses on posture, the flexibility of our bodies, and building up the strength we have long since lost to muscle wastage.

8. “Ahimsa”(Accessibility)

Ahimsa (A-HIM-SA) means “non-harming” or “non-violence” in Sanskirt and is one of the five Yoga Sutras. It reminds us that yoga is accessible, or should be accessible, to all people no matter their skill level, gender, age or gender.

Remembering Ahimsa throughout our practice enables us to begin to accept our mind, body, and soul completely.

Practicing non-violence means to be compassionate to ourselves.

It means to speak gently and to work at a pace that we are comfortable with, which will cause us no harm.

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” -Lao Tzu

Yoga has become a bit of a novelty in the 21st century. Every millennial you speak has practised or at least heard of yoga. Even doctors are suggesting it to alleviate chronic pain.

What are your thoughts on yoga? What are the other benefits of yoga that you’ve discovered? Comment below!


My name is Chloe. I write about eating disorders and mental health (among other topics) over on my blog. I've suffered from anorexia for over 13 years and spent about 7 of those in quasi-recovery. It was only after a recent burnout in December of 2018 that I relapsed and decided, once and for all, to get the help I needed. I believe that each and every sufferer has it inside them to reach that point where food is no longer the enemy, and that full recovery is an obtainable goal.

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