6 Ways Yoga Improves Mental Health

Addressing Mental Health Concerns 

Individuals suffering from modern mental health concerns (e.g., anxiety, worry, stress, exhaustion) are more inclined to turn to self-help resources before they turn to professional. Yoga may be viewed as one of these self-care, self-help practices. We will outline 6 ways yoga improves mental health.

Many yoga students make the connection that this practice increases their ability to regulate their emotions. Many find it helps them show more kindness, and go through their day with an increased sense of calm and balance. According to research, yoga has many positive effects on our mental health that occur both on and off the mat.

Here are 6 evidence-based ways that yoga may increase your mental health and overall happiness:


The vagus nerve is the main pathway to our parasympathetic nervous system (our rest and digest system). This nerve picks up sensory information from our throat, chest, and stomach area. We can stimulate this area through yoga postures that open the front of heart (e.g., supported fish, wheel) or by putting light pressure on the front body. For example, breathing with hands on your heart and belly helps activate the part of your nervous system that makes you feel safe and calm.

A research study (Shapiro & Cline, 2004) compared the subjective well-being of participants who engaged in yoga classes that focused either on heart openers (back bends), forward folds, or standing postures. While there was an increase in positive mood for all participants, the findings were stronger for those who practiced a heart opening yoga class.

Try This: When you are feeling frustrated or anxious, place your hands on the front of the body and breathe for a few moments. If you have more time, try a heart-opening yoga class.


Breath control is the fourth limb of a yoga practice; it helps quiet the mind. Research suggest the optimal breath is 5 breaths per minute – compared to our average 20 breaths per minute. Slower breathing has been shown to decrease the release of stress hormones and anxiety. To increase the effects of slower breathing, it’s suggested that we breathe only through the nose as often as possible (Nestor, 2020).

Try This: Sama vritti is a yogic breathing technique that means ‘equal breathing’. Practice breathing in through the nose for a count of 3, and then out for a count of 3. Visualize your breath filling the belly, ribs and chest. See if you can increase to a count of 4 or 5 as your practice continues.


Mindfulness is our ability to control where our attention rests. One study found that the typical mind is wandering (not in the present moment) 47% of the time (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010) and this ‘monkey mind’ is associated with decreased happiness.

Meditation is a way to practice mindfulness. A meditation practice can increase self-acceptance, physical health, and our ability to regulate our emotions.

Try This: Initially it can seem intimidating, however meditation is a skill that can be strengthened with practice (that’s why it’s called a practice). Try a 5 minute guided meditation focusing on the breath. I linked a guided meditation by me here. Set a timer for 5 minutes to see if you can sit with your breath. Your mind will wander. Let this happen, but try to come back to the breath instead of getting caught up in one thought. Mindfully observing your thoughts without judgement is the key to benefiting from your practice.


Yin yoga targets our deeper connective tissues. During this time, space is created in both our bodies and minds. Similarly to mindfulness, yin is a practice that can quiet our wandering minds and aid in freeing us from modern distractions. A 5-week Yin program decreased participants stress and worry, even weeks after the program ended (Hylander et al., 2017).

Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep, is another way to cultivate deep relaxation. While lying on your back, guided intention setting, body scanning, breath awareness and visualization make up this practice. A 6 month practice of Yoga Nidra increased general health and stress management among study participants (Rani et al., 2011).

Try This: Try an online Yin class or Yoga Nidra next time you need to rest your busy mind!


Santosha is a yogic practice meaning contentment, or gratitude. When we reflect on what we are grateful for, no matter how big or small, we change our immediate emotions. When we change our emotions, we change the structure of our brain and increase our sense of calm, even in stressful situations.

Practicing gratitude for the way things are offers an alternative way of living. We live in a world that focuses on increasing possessions in order to maintain short-term happiness. When we are grateful for what is in front of us, we don’t need much more.

Try This: Each time anything good happens (kind words with a stranger or sunshine hitting your face, for example), linger in it and allow positive emotions to arise. Stay with that feeling for a little longer than you might normally. See how this practice carries into the rest of your day.


The practice of non attachment encourages us to accept the good and the bad equally. The only thing we can be sure of in life is change. If we can accept this and roll with it, we become more mindfully present in life.

When we cling to outcomes and expectations, we often induce an unnecessary state of worry and stress. One study found that attachment was associated with burnout in the workplace and an inability to cope with stress. Non attachment on the other hand, was associated with increased goal achievement and enjoyment in the process.

Try This: Throughout your day notice things you may feel attached to (material possessions, expectations of yourself or the day) and see how this attachment helps you. If it doesn’t, can you practice releasing it?

Written by Victoria Hall, Yoga Teacher. She works one on one in person or online at Bloom from Tuesday – Thursday. 

Disclaimer – Everything shared is for informative purposes only. It is not intended for assessment, diagnosis or treatment purposes. If you feel there needs to be further investigation, please seek out a qualified health care professional for a proper assessment.