Creative Arts & Experiential Therapies 101: Yoga  

Yoga, an ancient practice originating in India, has gained widespread popularity worldwide for its holistic approach to mental health and undeniable potential to improve emotional wellbeing.  While its physical benefits are well-known, growing evidence suggests that yoga also plays a significant role in promoting mental well-being. It encompasses physical, mental, and spiritual aspects, aiming to promote overall well-being and harmony. The word "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit term "yuj," which means to unite or join, representing the union of body, mind, and spirit. Yoga utilizes a system of exercises, postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation practices that work together to cultivate strength, flexibility, balance, relaxation, mindfulness, and inner peace. 

Who can benefit from Yoga?    

Yoga can be practiced by people of all ages, fitness levels, backgrounds, and belief systems. There are several styles of yoga, including Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Kundalini, and Iyengar, each focusing on distinct aspects of well-being.  Regular practice has been found to help cultivate a deeper connection with oneself.  Patients at Compass benefit from having a therapeutic space dedicated to exploring some of these styles of yoga.  Through participating in yoga groups, they can deepen their mind body connection and experience visceral healing.   

Is Yoga evidence-based?   

Research suggests that practicing yoga has a variety of mental and emotional benefits.  A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology demonstrated that yoga stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, triggering the relaxation response and reducing the body's stress hormones. Research published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice highlighted how yoga has been found to increase levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This neurotransmitter helps regulate mood and alleviate symptoms of depression. A peer-reviewed article published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health explored the effects of yoga on cognitive function, demonstrating how yoga postures, breathing exercises, and meditation techniques have been associated with improved attention, memory, and mental clarity.  A randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that yoga's relaxation techniques and controlled breathing patterns help calm the mind, reduce stress, and reduce insomnia symptoms. Yoga encourages individuals to cultivate a non-judgmental attitude and a more profound sense of self-compassion, contributing to a greater sense of overall well-being.  

How is Yoga incorporated into programming at Compass? 

Yoga at Compass incorporates the tenets of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in a unique way. Patients experience the benefits of mindfulness, one of the four main tenets of DBT, by practicing various breathing techniques, exploring holding space for emotions and tension through movement, and experiencing the benefits of being supported by a gentle, compassionate yoga instructor. Compass offers yoga groups regularly to give patients the chance to develop consistency in their practice and apply distress tolerance and emotional regulation skills they have learned in other groups throughout the week.  

Yoga has a myriad of benefits for mental health. From stress reduction and anxiety management to depression relief and improved cognitive function, yoga is a powerful tool for promoting mental well-being. By incorporating yoga into our programming at Compass, participants can experience a more holistic, transformative journey toward a healthier mind and body. 

 Want to learn more about PHP/IOP programming in general? Check out our resource page, What is PHP/IOP? 

Further Reading in this series: Creative Arts & Experiential Therapies 101 

Yoga (2)


Mariah May

Group Therapist, Adult Program