Last week we shared a post about the physical benefits of making Bikram Yoga a regular part of your life. Since physical benefits are only part of the mind/body equation, we wanted to discuss some of the mental health benefits, supported by medical science, of course.

1)  Bikram Yoga reduces cortisol and binge eating


Overview from the Doctors: Cortisol reactivity to stress is associated with affective eating, an important behavioral risk factor for obesity and related metabolic diseases. Yoga practice is related to decreases in stress and cortisol levels, thus emerging as a potential targeted complementary intervention for affective eating. This randomized controlled trial examined the efficacy of a heated, hatha yoga intervention for reducing cortisol reactivity to stress and affective eating.

Full Study: Heated Hatha Yoga to Target Cortisol Reactivity to Stress and Affective Eating in Women at Risk for Obesity-Related Illnesses: A Randomized Controlled Trial – Funded by our friends at Pure Action

2) Bikram Yoga helps you sleep better


Overview from the Doctors:: Further studies are required to determine which aspect(s) of Bikram Yoga can be most important for impacting sleep physiology. For example, physiological changes could be attributed to changes in hydration, to performance of vigorous exercise in general, or to indirect effects (such as being more mindful about avoiding other disruptors of sleep). We did not detect any significant differences in terms of the portion of days in which subjects reported alcohol, caffeine, naps, or other exercise when comparing Bikram versus non-Bikram days (data not shown). Future studies should compare Bikram to other forms of exercise as well as forms of relaxation, to determine which aspect of Bikram was most relevant to effects on sleep. Specifically, Bikram Yoga was associated with significantly faster return to sleep after nocturnal awakenings

Full Study:  Decreased Nocturnal Awakenings in Young Adults Performing Bikram Yoga: A Low-Constraint Home Sleep Monitoring Study

3) Long term practitioners have larger grey matter volume in areas of the brain associated with attention & self control 


Overview from the Doctors:: These areas have been shown to be associated with sustained attention/cognitive control, emotion control, interoceptive perception and feelings of compassion, suggesting that long-term SYM practice may potentially enhance the functions mediated by these regions and consequently lead to neuroplastic enlargements.

Full Study: Increased Grey Matter Associated with Long-Term Sahaja Yoga Meditation: A Voxel-Based Morphometry Study


4) Bikram Yoga lowers distress tolerance and emotional eating


Overview from the Doctors:: This study offers preliminary evidence for the benefits of yoga interventions for problems characterized by elevated stress and poor affect regulation. First, our findings underscore the promise of hatha yoga practice for increasing DT and reducing emotional eating tendencies. Second, our mediation analyses revealed a particular component of the cognitive processing of distress – Absorption – mediated the effects of yoga on disordered eating. Interventions that aid in affect modulation and enhanced coping are crucial for reducing the public health burden of an array of psychological disorders, and this study provides support for further development of specialized, mind-body interventions for those low in DT.

Full Study: The Effects of a Hatha Yoga Intervention on Facets of Distress Tolerance

These studies provide proof that a regular yoga practice can provide real world mental health benefits. Dr. Hunter, arguably the world’s leading authority on medical science as it relates to yoga, is hosting a research conference in Texas this summer dedicated to this topic. For more information click below.

Pure Action 1st Annual Research Conference

stacy-218x300Dr. Stacy Hunter received her Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2008 where she studied racial differences in anaerobic performance. In 2011, she received her Ph.D. in Clinical Exercise Physiology from the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education working in the Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory where the focus of her dissertation was on the effects of yoga on arterial stiffness and vascular endothelial function. She has published several studies on the effects of yoga on indices of vascular and metabolic health. As a pioneer in this widely unexplored field, she performed the first yoga studies of their kind and continues her efforts in bridging the gap between the anecdotal and empirical evidence of the health claims associated with hatha yoga as the research director for PURE Action.