Yoga Therapy for Schizophrenia
Revolutions in Yoga Therapy
I use yoga therapy to work with mental health. I also conduct research in this field and remain abreast of trends and changes in this field. Recently there is a trend towards investigating the therapeutic use of yoga in acute mental health issues. This excites me deeply as I know how much of a struggle the mind can be, how grueling it can be trying to balance the mind, and how fortunate I am to have had an opportunity to experience this sense of calm. To know that others, who are greatly removed from an extreme of mental wellness, I am so pleased to know that yoga might help them as well.
For example, I am really impressed that there has been a recent influx in research on the use of yoga therapy in schizophrenia. Until about 4 years ago no one was even really using yoga with this patient population, which is truly sad as there seems to be such marked benefit. For example, people with schizophrenia tend to be on medication to reduce positive symptoms such as hallucinations, however, medicine is not able to reduce negative symptoms such as reduced social functioning, low mood, and decreased emotional recognition. This means that the life of someone suffering from schizophrenia can be all the more painful. A host of yoga studies have found that yoga increases positive mood, facial recognition of emotions, reduces stress and improved social functioning. Even more exciting a paper by Gangadhar et al, found that yoga increased oxytocin levels by 300%!!!!!!! That's a WOW factor. Oxytocin is a hormone that supports a sense of bonding and safety; levels are particularly low in schizophrenia. The increase in Oxy may in fact underscore the efficacy of yoga in improving social functioning. Moreover, it is great to know that yoga has the ability to enhance Oxytocin as many of us with other mental health issues could really use a boost!
Another really amazing study, not yet published, and conducted by my mentors Drs. Brown and Gerbarg found genomic change following a yogic intervention in schizophrenics. Although these changes surely are not going to cure schizophrenia they are indicative of reduced stress levels and a down-regulation of factors that lead to inflammation. This is soooooooooooo important as schizophrenic patients are usually highly medicated and these medication can cause cardiovascular inflammation and weight gain. That yoga main reduce these factors is of the utmost importance and speaks of positive increases in quality of life. It also suggests those without schizophrenia may experience positive genomic change following yoga practice!
As I am so excited about the research being done in this field I have invited Dr. Gangadhar, the leader in this field of research, to discuss this topic at this year's yoga therapy conference in March. Further he is already teaching on our training!
Although only 1 percent of the population suffer from schizophrenia this is still a whole lot of people that could truly benefit from be introduced to these practices, finding community, and return to the grounded experience of the body and experience greater joy. If you are a yoga therapist, please consider working with this group. If you have schizophrenia or know someone who does, consider sending them to a specialized yoga class!!!