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Psychobiological Mechanisms Underlying the Mental Health Benefits of Yoga-Based Interventions: a Narrative Review

Abstract

Objectives

A comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms of action is important if yoga-based interventions are to be used in the prevention and/or treatment of mental health symptoms. We, therefore, aimed to examine the evidence base and mechanisms underlying the benefits of yoga-based interventions on mental health, with a focus on psychological, physiological and neurobiological mechanisms.

Methods

A narrative review was conducted of scoping reviews, systematic reviews and meta-analysis of yoga-based interventions with a focus on psychological, physiological and neurobiological mechanisms linking yoga-based interventions with mental health. A single author conducted a search of the literature using a number of databases (PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, Google Scholar). Search terms included but were not limited to “yoga*”, “asana*,” “psych*”, “neuro*”, “stress”, “autonomic”, “mental illness”, “mental health”, “cytokine” and “endocrine”.

Results

A total of 22 studies were included in this narrative review. These studies report that yoga-based interventions decrease stress reactivity, influence physiological markers of stress reactivity including changes in blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol or cytokine levels, resulting in overall improved health and well-being, in diverse populations of adults. Yoga-based interventions influence psychological processes involved in the regulation of mood and emotion, including self-compassion, dispositional mindfulness, rumination, meta-cognition, attention and memory. Finally, yoga-based interventions result in structural and functional changes in several brain regions.

Conclusions

Yoga-based interventions impact multiple processes of mental health; however, further research should explore the potential interaction between these processes as it is possible that effects may be synergistic rather than in silos.

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

MCP: designed and executed the study, analyzed the data and wrote the paper. MdM: collaborated with the design and writing of the study. MH: collaborated with the design and writing of the study. PB: collaborated with the design and writing of the study. JT: collaborated with analyzing the data and the writing of the study. AP: collaborated with the design and writing of the study.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michaela C. Pascoe.

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Informed consent was not required for the conduct of this narrative review as no participants were involved.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Pascoe, M.C., J. de Manincor, M., Hallgren, M. et al. Psychobiological Mechanisms Underlying the Mental Health Benefits of Yoga-Based Interventions: a Narrative Review. Mindfulness 12, 2877–2889 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-021-01736-z

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Keywords

  • Brain
  • Yoga
  • Stress
  • Autonomic nervous system