Amid the coronavirus pandemic, some Penn State students are turning to yoga to help alleviate stress, anxiety and depression.
Erin Raupers, the assistant director of Penn State Health Promotion and Wellness department, said yoga and mental health have a correlation.
“It is important to know that there is not necessarily a causation, which [would mean] that action A, which would be yoga, causes outcome B, which is to improve mental health,” Raupers said. “There is no guarantee that yoga will change mental health, but there are a lot of studies out there that show a positive impact.”
Student Nina Nudell, who uses yoga as a coping mechanism, said yoga has completely changed her life — but she wasn’t always willing to try it.
“My mom does yoga, and she has done it her entire life,” Nudell (senior-biological engineering) said. “She always wanted me to do it and ground myself, and I never listened.”
Nudell said she “fell in love with it” after she started a daily yoga routine. She said she now makes sure she doesn’t miss a day.
Dream Vo, president of the Yoga Club at Penn State, said yoga is also a good way to release yourself and to get into meditation.
“I think there is a really good sense of freedom when it comes to mental health, and I would say a lot of people use yoga as a really good outlook — something they could use to release themselves,” Vo (senior-aerospace engineering) said.
For Vo, the most important part of the yoga experience is the activity’s ability to help participants focus on mindfulness. When practicing yoga, the body releases serotonin, which not only helps the body feel good, but also helps the individual focus and relax, according to Vo.
Raupers referenced several other physical benefits of yoga, including a reduction of anxiety and stress, the modulation of stress response systems in the body — systems that can make those who do yoga more alert — and decreases in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rates.
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She also said yoga can increase heart rate variability, or the speed at which heart rate can adapt to new environments, which she said can help reduce stress.
“There are way more positives than negatives [to practicing yoga],” Raupers said, “but it is important to keep in mind that everyone is different.”
As an avid yogi, Victor Oliveira has also researched the benefits of practicing yoga.
“I have read and looked up scientific research experiments where they found that [the] practice of yoga can actually improve some structures of the brain and the mind,” Oliveira (junior-marketing) said, “and apparently, that is because yoga combines physical exercise with breathing and mindfulness.”
Nudell said a common contributing factor in many individuals’ struggles with anxiety and depression is a tendency to focus on the past and the future instead of the present.
“We think and we are in our minds all day long, and that is where anxiety and sadness comes from,” Nudell said. “Yoga is basically a moving meditation. You are connecting your breath and your body, and it is a way to pause for a second and be present in that moment.”
Nudell said she thinks yoga makes focusing on mindfulness easier than meditation because “you can focus on your movements as well.”
“It is definitely an outlet for me personally and [for] a lot of people,” Nudell said.
Moreover, Oliveira said yoga can help people focus on the present.
“We only really have now — the here and the now and the present — and yoga is a practice and a journey that enables us to become more skilled at centering [ourselves],” Oliveira said.
Vo also said yoga is easily accessible.
“Honestly, I practice yoga with or without a mat, and you can do it in any environment,” Vo said. “It is a very beautiful practice.”
For some like Vo, yoga is also a way to avoid the negative impact of the coronavirus on mental health.
“I feel like I am in a coffin at times inside my apartment, but yoga is an outlet — it is a vehicle that helps you escape,” Vo said. “I would say it is the best practice to maintain your body.”
Generally, Raupers said yoga is a practice that can help with overall well-being.
“For people who are dealing with depression, anxiety and stress, yoga is appealing,” Raupers said. “It is an appealing way to better manage those symptoms, and evidence is growing that yoga is low risk and [that] there is a high yield approach in improving overall health.