As yoga becomes ever popular as a way for people to exercise and relieve stress, its benefits – particularly when it comes to mental health – are becoming increasingly clear. Now, a small US study has found hot yoga can help reduce emotional eating and banish negative thoughts.
The study involved 52 women – all of whom showed signs of depression, high stress and unhealthy diet patterns – who were split into two groups of 27 and 25 participants. Those in the larger group were asked to attend two Bikram hot yoga classes a week for eight weeks, while the others acted as a control group, doing no yoga at all.
It was found that those who had taken part in the classes saw vast improvements in their mental health and wellbeing, with participants reporting an average decrease in stress and emotional eating that was almost three times greater than that of the women in the control group. Lindsey Hopkins, part of the research team at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Centre, said: 'Yoga has become increasingly popular in the West, and many new yoga practitioners cite stress-reduction and other mental health concerns as their primary reason for practicing.
'At this time, we can only recommend yoga as a complementary approach, likely most effective in conjunction with standard approaches delivered by a licensed therapist,' she added. 'Clearly, yoga is not a cure-all. However, based on empirical evidence, there seems to be a lot of potential.'
In another similar study, which involved 74 mildly depressed university students, it was also found that individuals who performed yoga and other relaxation techniques in a group were more likely to see stress-relieving results than those who performed the exercises at home alone.
Nina Vollbehr, who led the research at the Centre for Integrative Psychiatry in the Netherlands, said: '[Such] studies suggest that yoga-based interventions have promise for depressed mood and that they are feasible for patients with chronic, treatment-resistant depression.'
Top yoga moves for beginners
Keen to give yoga a go but not sure where to start? Not to worry! Have a go at some of these super-simple moves, all of which focus on building strength and increasing flexibility. They can even be done in the comfort of your own home – no equipment needed.
Downward dog: Start on the ground on all fours, with hands directly under shoulders and knees under hips. Walk your hands slowly forward, spreading fingers wide and pressing your palms down. Now, curl your toes under and slowly push your hips up towards the ceiling, so that your body makes an inverted V shape. Ensure your feet are shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent before you take a few deep, calming breaths.
Warrior: Stand with your legs three or four feet apart, with your right foot turned roughly 90 degrees and left foot in slightly. Now, extend your arms out to the sides, palms down, and bend your right knee over your ankle. Try and hold for as long as possible.
Tree: This one is all about the balance! Start by standing up straight with your arms by your side. Slowly shift your weight onto your left leg and place the sole of your right foot inside left thigh, keeping hips facing forward. Once you've found your balance, inhale and extend your arms over your shoulders and up towards the ceiling. Hold for 30 seconds before switching sides.
Both of the above studies were presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American psychological Association.
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