Yoga and mental health

Girl doing yoga.jpg

As a late convert to yoga, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Having dabbled with ashtanga yoga a decade ago, when I wasn't quite ready for it, I thought it was a good idea to try again. And I'm so glad I did – the benefits for my mental and physical health are tremendous. My back pain has vanished, I feel physically stronger, calmer and much more relaxed on a daily basis.

Intriguingly, I recently learned that the main purpose of hatha yoga (the physical postures, which are actually just one aspect of yoga practice) was originally to prepare for meditation – developing the flexibility, stamina and settled mind required for extended periods of sitting. And yoga certainly dovetails perfectly with my daily meditation practice, each enhancing and strengthening the other.

If you – like most people in the West – suffer from stress, yoga is for you. And if you have any physical health conditions, such as headaches, digestive issues or back pain, yoga can help with those too. It may be more difficult to commit to any form of regular exercise if you are struggling with more serious mental health issues, such as depression or an anxiety disorder, but if you can try even a little yoga – say once or twice a week – it will really help.

Exercise combats depression

There is a large body of evidence showing the benefits of physical exercise for all psychological problems. For example, regular cardiovascular exercise like running, weights, playing sport, cycling, swimming – or more strenuous forms of yoga, such as vinyasa or ashtanga – is proven to be just as effective as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression. With no side effects (well, apart from feeling happier, healthier and more relaxed!).

If you do have a mental health problem, I would not recommend either meditation or yoga as a substitute for proven treatments like cognitive or schema therapy; but they are excellent additions to Western psychology. And, of course, Eastern practices like mindfulness meditation are increasingly used as part of talking-therapy treatments such as CBT.

If you would like to know more about the way Eastern practices such as yoga or meditation can be used alongside therapy, email

Warm wishes,