Healthy Living

Practicing Yoga To Treat Bipolar Disorder Comes With Risks And Benefits

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Yoga has been shown to improve mood, mental health, and physical strength — but researchers still want to find out if it has a positive impact on people with bipolar disorder. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Yoga is beneficial for many things — flexing and strengthening your muscles, meditating, relaxing, and getting an excellent workout. Yoga has been shown to help reduce stress and depression, fight against PTSD, and boost your mood overall.

But not enough research has been done to figure out whether or not it has a positive impact on specific mental disorders, like bipolar disorder. In a new study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice and led by Lisa Uebelacker at Brown University, researchers attempted to better understand how yoga might treat — or worsen — bipolar disorder.

“There is no scientific literature on hatha yoga for bipolar disorder,” Uebelacker, who is an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior in the Alpert Medical School at Brown University, said in the press release. “There is reason to think that there are ways in which it might be wonderful and ways in which it might not be safe. We are interested in studying hatha yoga for bipolar as an adjunctive treatment to pharmacotherapy.”

In the study, some 70 people answered an online survey that questioned how yoga benefited mental health. Many said that the benefits were “life changing” and one person in particular even noted that “Yoga has saved my life.” In general, most of the respondents said that yoga helped lessen anxiety.

But some believed otherwise, noting that there were some negative effects as well. Some people with bipolar disorder noted that they had experienced agitation from rapid breathing; one person found themselves even more depressed afterwards because “I fell into a relaxed state … near catatonic as my mind was depressed already. I was in bed for three days afterward.” And as in every form of exercise, there’s a risk for physical injury or pain — as well as self-criticism. “It’s possible that you want to avoid any extreme practice, such as extended periods of rapid breathing,” Uebelacker said in the press release.

But this single study probably isn’t enough to come to any clear conclusions on the matter. Uebelacker plans on continuing to examine the effect of yoga on bipolar disorder. Past research has linked yoga — and exercise in general — with improvements in mental health and overall well-being. So it might not be a surprise if Uebelacker finds that yoga can help bipolar disorder, too.

“Indeed, the scientific study of yoga demonstrates that mental and physical health are not just closely allied, but are essentially equivalent,” Harvard Health Publications writes in an overview of yoga research. “The evidence is growing that yoga practice is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.”

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