Yoga Can Improve Symptoms of Mental Illnesses


One reason yoga has a wide range of benefits may be that it can be easily be adapted to meet a variety of needs and preferences. “In our initial research we found that some women appreciated the exercise component as it helped with aches and pains, whereas others found the breathing techniques useful for maintaining calm in periods of stress, and others enjoyed the social aspect of meeting other pregnant women,” explained Newham, who is a research associate at the Institute of Health & Society at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom.

Though at least one in ten pregnant women struggle with mental health problems, many avoid seeking help because of the stigma surrounding such issues. “Yoga is relatively cheap to implement and could help mothers and their children be healthier, as well as reducing the costs of longer term health care,” he said.

Two studies published last year show that yoga can help reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A paper from the October 2014 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that, compared to a control group, veteran and civilian women with PTSD who participated in a yoga program had reductions in symptoms and risk of substance abuse.5

Another study, published in August 2014 in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, investigated the effects of yoga among male vets of Iraq and Afghanistan wars.6 Compared to a wait-list control group, vets who participated in three-hour yoga sessions for seven days experienced reductions in respiration, anxiety, and PTSD, especially for symptoms like recurring nightmares, traumatic memories and hyperarousal. They also had decreased eye-blink rates, which correlated with the reduced hyperarousal symptoms immediately after the intervention and at follow-up one year later.

In addition to social and emotional health benefits, yoga can also improve cognitive functioning, suggests research published in September 2014.7 A sample of 118 healthy older adults was randomized to a yoga intervention or control group that did stretching and strengthening exercises. Each group participated in one-hour sessions three times weekly for eight weeks.

According to results, the yoga group showed improved scores on tests of information recall, mental flexibility and task-switching, both compared to baseline and to the control group. It is well-established that stress and anxiety can impede cognitive performance, and the calming impact of yoga on the body’s stress response systems may counter those negative effects.

“Yoga is gentle, requires minimal equipment and can be modified for persons who may have functional limitations,” said study co-author Neha P. Gothe, PhD, a professor of kinesiology at Wayne State University in Detroit. “Clinicians should consider recommending yoga as a form of physical as well as mental exercise to patients, especially older adults, to maintain and potentially improve their mental health in old age.”

Tori Rodriguez, MA, LPC, is a psychotherapist and freelancer writer based in Atlanta.


  1. National Institutes of Health: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Complementary, Alternative, or Integrative Health: What’s In a Name? Retrieved February 25, 2015 from
  2. National Institutes of Health: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Yoga for Health. Retrieved February 25, 2015 from
  3. Frank JL, et al. Effectiveness of a School-Based Yoga Program on Adolescent Mental Health, Stress Coping Strategies, and Attitudes Toward Violence: Findings From a High-Risk Sample. Journal of Applied School Psychology. 2014; 30:1, 29-49.
  4. Newham JJ, et al. Effects of Antenatal Yoga on Maternal Anxiety and Depression: A Randomized Controlled TrialDepression and Anxiety. 2014; 31: 631–640.
  5. Reddy S, et al. The Effect of a Yoga Intervention on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Risk in Veteran and Civilian Women with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2014: 20(10):750-6.
  6. Seppälä EM, et al. Breathing-Based Meditation Decreases Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in U.S. Military Veterans: A Randomized Controlled Longitudinal Study. Journal of Traumatic Stress. 2014; 27(4):397-405.
  7. Gothe NP, et al. The effects of an 8-week Hatha yoga intervention on executive function in older adults. Journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. 2014; 69(9):1109-16.