The benefits of yoga for stress relief

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated January 4, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In December 2014, the United Nations declared June 21st as the International Day of Yoga. The purpose of the International Day of Yoga is to raise global awareness about the benefits of this meditative exercise practice.  

Research shows that yoga can provide a wealth of physical and mental effects and can help curb stress and anxiety. Whether you are looking to further develop your yoga practice or are new to the discipline, regular yoga can be an effective way to reduce stress and increase your well-being.

In this article, we’ll explore the many benefits of yoga, including its ability to relieve stress while improving your physical and mental health.

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Learn about the healthy benefits of a yoga practice

What is yoga?

Yoga originated in India thousands of years ago. Yoga has been closely associated with both physical and spiritual practice, and its traditions have developed over the course of millennia. This meditative practice tends to combine physical exercise, controlled breathing, and mental exercise that emphasizes mindfulness and unity between body and spirit. Traditionally, the ultimate goal of yoga has been captured in the term moksha, which might be translated as freedom from samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth.

Different styles of yoga

Yoga styles can vary from gentle to strenuous, from slow-moving to fast-paced. Depending on your skill level and personal preference, there are a wide variety of styles from which to choose. Styles such as Hatha, Raja, Karma, Bhakti, Jnana, and Tantra are all rooted in spiritual and historical practices, with different emphases depending on the discipline. For example, Hatha yoga is a traditional style that tends to focus on bringing balance to the body. Hatha-inspired yoga tends to be slow-flowing and focuses on holding balanced poses through a series of breaths.

Today, yoga in the West often focuses on mindful movement and exercise. Modern yoga also includes styles that vary from beginner-friendly to intense, such as Yin, Bikram, Kripalu, Kundalini, and more. No matter what style of yoga you're interested in exploring, each can offer benefits for your mental and physical health. Depending on your personal preferences, experience with yoga, and potential physical limitations, you can choose which kind of yoga works for you. If you are not sure which type of yoga is best for you, you might try several classes and even alternate between different styles.

Yoga for stress relief

While stress is a common occurrence in life, living with stress for prolonged periods can affect a person’s physical and mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, the signs and symptoms of stress can include gastrointestinal difficulties, sleep problems, high blood pressure, fatigue, irritability, and cognitive concerns.

Yoga can help relax both the body and the mind and provide a wealth of benefits related to mental health. Recent studies have shown a significant correlation between an active yoga practice and stress relief.

Yoga can help mitigate stress responses by controlling breathing and bodily movements, as well as by focusing the mind on physical experience rather than anxious thoughts. People often describe their mental state during yoga as one of clarity, calm, and focus. Like meditation techniques, a yoga practice can help to clear the mind of unwanted thoughts and encourage harmony between mind and body. Yoga can also serve as an effective form of exercise, helping you develop muscle strength and flexibility.


One of the main benefits of yoga for stress relief is a focus on mindfulness. Mindfulness can help reduce anxiety as it centers on a calm, observant focus on your thoughts and sensations. One of the common components of mindfulness tends to be an observance of thoughts and emotions without judgment. Instead, mindfulness allows you to be fully present and in tune with the sensations of your body along with any thoughts or feelings that might arise.



Meditation is a practice that often includes mindfulness, and it can be cultivated during a yoga practice. Meditation is a core component of some Eastern religious practices, and it has been a part of some forms of yoga for centuries. Meditation has been shown to help reduce anxiety, including symptoms like excessive stress, panic, and agoraphobia. Some research shows that meditation can even help reduce your blood pressure and mitigate insomnia. The quiet, rhythmic movements of yoga may help to induce a meditative state, while a focus on breathing can promote a sense of calm.

As with mindfulness, one of the core components of meditation is often an acceptance of whatever you are experiencing in the moment. Instead of dwelling on your stress or anxiety, you can acknowledge it and let it pass through you without letting it consume you.


Yoga, which focuses on movements as well as stretching and flexibility, can be an effective way to exercise and stay fit. Exercise has also been shown to be effective in fighting symptoms of anxiety. Exercise helps promote both mental and physical health as it releases endorphins, a feel-good chemical that helps promote mental health. Exercise can also help to occupy your mind and distract you from negative thoughts and feelings. Even a few minutes of exercise a day or a simple 20-minute yoga routine may be enough to reap the mental and physical benefits of exercise.


Since muscle tension and soreness can be common symptoms of stress and anxiety, people experiencing these concerns tend to experience tightness and pain throughout their bodies. Yoga may directly address and resolve anxiety symptoms that manifest as soreness and tension. Yoga works to stretch out the muscles, gently flowing through motions that elongate and exercise muscles throughout the body.

Whether you find your shoulders aching at the end of a stressful day, or you feel physically exhausted from managing stress, yoga can serve as a gentle way of increasing your awareness of your physical self and relieving tension throughout your body.

Spiritual effects

While many people may consider yoga a form of exercise rather than a spiritual activity, yoga has its roots as a spiritual practice that helps to unify the mind and body. Yoga teaches practitioners to focus on mindfulness and to calmly accept thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they occur. For some, one of the goals of yoga is spiritual enlightenment. In this respect, a spiritual yoga practice can be aligned with improved mental health. Even if you are not sure what yoga might mean to you in terms of spirituality, it can be an effective way to delve deeper into yourself and find a sense of inner calm in the process.

Yoga for beginners

If you’re interested in yoga but aren’t sure where to start, you might consider attending a beginner’s yoga class at a local gym or fitness center. There are usually affordable (or even free) yoga options for beginners, as well as classes with individual instruction. If you are not sure what style you want to focus on, consider attending a wide range of classes to determine what works best for you. Also, you might speak with a yoga instructor about their own practice. Many yoga instructors are happy to assist someone new to yoga in learning more about the practice.

Online yoga classes

If you cannot fit an in-person yoga class into your schedule, or if you just want to practice at home before doing it in a group setting, you can practice yoga positions without even leaving the house with a variety of online classes suited for beginners. While online yoga classes might not usually offer the personalized feedback of an in-person class, they can still be an effective way to learn more about yoga and explore different poses and styles. 

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Learn about the healthy benefits of a yoga practice

No matter what kind of yoga you are interested in, a regular yoga practice may improve your mental and physical health. If you're stressed, anxious, or depressed, yoga may have an especially significant impact on your mental well-being. While yoga isn't a magical cure-all, it can have a wealth of positive effects. 

Seeking help for stress

Stress can have a major impact on a person’s health and well-being, both physically and emotionally. It can intensify emotions (such as fear) and may cause you to stop doing things that you once enjoyed. Stress disorders can also have an impact on personal relationships, your ability to work effectively, and your ability to form new relationships. If you are concerned you have a stress disorder, consider speaking with a mental health professional.

In therapy, you might learn to identify what is causing your stress and learn several new coping strategies. Additionally, a therapist may be able to help you build strategies that promote resilience to manage current and future stressful events.

Online therapy for stress

If stress makes it difficult to make time for traditional in-office therapy, you might benefit from online therapy. If you find it challenging to attend in-person therapy, consider scheduling an appointment with an online therapist. Online therapy tends to be more affordable than in-person therapy, and you have several options for communicating with a therapist, including phone, live chat, and videoconferencing. 

Research also supports the efficacy of online therapy. For example, a review published in 2015 in the Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews showed that internet cognitive behavioral therapy was effective for people experiencing anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. 


If you are managing excessive stress or anxiety, yoga may help relieve the physical and emotional effects. To complement a yoga practice, you might consider speaking with a licensed counselor, whether in your community or online. BetterHelp has a network of more than 30,000 licensed therapists, so you can be matched with a therapist who has experience in stress relief or whatever other challenges you’re facing. Take the first step toward stress relief and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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