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Strike a Pose: Surprising Emotional and Mental Health Benefits of Yoga

January 26, 2021

Like fashion where vintage threads are perpetually in demand because what’s old is often new again, yoga is a 5,000-year-old practice that’s graduated from merely trendy to perennially popular with about one in 10 people in the United States participating.

While devotees of all ages swear by what yoga does for overall health, flexibility, mindfulness, and breathing, there are numerous benefits beyond the physical realm, too.

Not only have some studies indicated an anti-depressive effect because of decreased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, but yoga has been linked to a reduction in anxiety and fewer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In a recent interview, Bessel van der Kolk, MD, a clinical psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of trauma by integrating brain, body, and social connections, noted how yoga can be a powerful component in healing.


Learning to Befriend Your Body

Describing trauma as “the residue from the past as it settles into your body” that’s located inside your skin, Dr. van der Kolk observed that when people are traumatized, they can become afraid of their physical sensations. That can lead to shallow breathing, an uptightness, or a fear of what they’re feeling.

Yoga offers healthy detachment from mind chatter, unhelpful thoughts, and cognitive distortions.

When someone’s breathing is slowed down with yoga, however, there’s a decrease in stress as your heart rate variability is increased. Describing yoga as a “gentle, safe way for people to befriend their bodies,” Dr. van der Kolk observed an alleviation in traumatic stress symptoms when comparing neuroimaging of the brain before and after regular yoga practice.

Another unique component of yoga is that when it’s a group effort, rather than practiced alone, there’s an activation of the brain’s mirror neuron system, which is often damaged by trauma. When it’s engaged, however, it can provide a deeper sense of connection, empathy, and belonging.


The Connection Between Yoga and Resilience 

Hanna Carrizos is a yoga therapist at Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows, which offers workshops and training to those on the journey of recovery, healing, and personal growth. Carrizos helps people process emotional pain, even trauma, through movement. Her personal experience with the restorative power of yoga enables her to sympathize with and encourage participants.

In her teen years, Carrizos was a “very competitive athlete” who trained, or as she describes it “overtrained” for six to seven hours a day. At the time, she was into wrestling, mixed martial arts, and weightlifting to such an extent that it became how she gained her “empowerment.”

In the midst of success as an athlete, she developed an eating disorder as she prepped for her first bodybuilding show. She struggled with body dysmorphia throughout her teen years.

During a breakup she experienced after high school, Carrizos sought a grounding force in her life, a practical way to take care of her emotional health and relieve stress. She decided to try yoga. What she found in the process was transformational.

In addition to a healthy detachment from “the mind chatter, unhelpful thoughts, and cognitive distortions,” Carrizos said that regular yoga helped her connect with her soul, learn to love herself, and see her worth — a gift she wanted to share.

Describing yoga as not only great for the body, but for mental strength, Carrizos believes it’s “a great opportunity to build resiliency.” For fighters in particular, yoga can help them find composure in the ring by knowing how to breathe. The practice of yoga provides consistency and steadiness.

And some days, it involves some adorable sidekicks.

Goat yoga at Rio RetreatGoat yoga is gaining quite a following worldwide, and it’s a fun, non-intimidating stress relief combined with nature.

“People have a lot of very skewed perception of yoga, and it can be intimidating,” Carrizos shares. “I’ll tell people ‘You don’t even have to do yoga. If you just want to come and hang out with baby goats, you can do that.’ [And] they end up wanting to join in and do the poses and stuff. You’re integrating movement through your body and good breathwork. You’re on the grass, you’re grounding, but you’re also with baby goats, and it’s fun.”

If you’re seeking healing from trauma, substance abuse, emotional disorders, or mental health conditions, please get in touch with our team today. We can help you find treatment and support so that you can embark on the journey to recovery.