Artwork by De Visu via shutterstock.com
When most of us think of yoga, we think of intricate poses and Instagram-worthy flexibility. We think of a downward-facing dog, high-intensity hot yoga and maybe even warrior poses. Even though these physical factors are all wonderful, are we thinking about the mental health benefits?
When I first started practicing yoga about 10 years ago, I was adamant about increasing my flexibility and making sure that all of my poses were correct. I would even beat myself up if a yoga instructor made a modification to one of my poses during class! As time progressed and I ventured into my own training to become a yoga instructor, I have realized that yoga is not just about “accurate” poses and flexibility. Instead, yoga is a combination of mind, body and soul.
To some, yoga is even considered psychology that helps us understand ourselves as human beings and how emotions tend to live within our bodies. The American Psychological Association even states that the positive benefits of yoga on mental health has made it a very important tool in psychotherapy. Studies have found that yoga may ease conditions such as depression, sleep disorders and attention deficit disorders.
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On a personal level, daily yoga practice helped me understand myself better and boost my mental and emotional health. The truth is, there are some days when the last thing you feel like doing is getting on the mat to move your body. Maybe you’re just overly stressed or tired beyond belief. Maybe you feel as if you just do not have the time. Once you get there, you can sit still and focus on your breathing. Simple meditation is another form of yoga that many of us tend to overlook, and it has a wondrous impact on our bodies.
Here are some mental health benefits of yoga that can help you:
1) Anxiety Relief
I’ve seen many people practice yoga simply to help them relieve anxiety. The practice emphasizes being in the present moment and finding your inner self, even amongst external factors. I’ve seen this firsthand for people who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Gentle movements and mindful breathing can help deal with traumatic moments in a healthy manner. A pose such as an extended puppy pose helps us to maintain a sense of calm as we stretch our shoulders and upper back and place our head to the ground.
2) Build Confidence
One of the great things that I love about yoga is that it helps to guide our self-awareness. Yoga teaches us that we have everything that we have inside of ourselves to be secure and happy. However, this is often the most challenging part of life. When we slow down, quiet ourselves and pay attention to how we are treating ourselves, this can greatly impact our own self-confidence. Poses such as warrior I and warrior II teach us that we have the ability to overcome any obstacle that may come our way and, in turn, become stronger.
3) Reduce Fatigue
Do you have days where you are just in a slump and your energy drops? Maybe your eyelids feel heavy and you feel unmotivated to take anything on. If you just do a few yoga postures in the morning or afternoon, that fatigue may be reduced. The combination of stretching and mindful breathing allows more oxygen to go to your brain, and it helps to give you a mental boost. There is a chance that your focus could improve as well. Try to take just 15 minutes out of your day to give it a try. A pose such as forward fold helps to calm the mind and reduce any tension that you have. I stay in a forward fold (sitting or standing) for as long as my body will allow me and it helps to bring a sense of peace.
4) Promotion of Relaxation
Even though many positive mental health tips tend to emphasize verbal expression and communication with others, yoga helps you to focus solely on yourself. Many of us have a plethora of stressful factors that we must deal with on a daily basis, and the last thing we want to do is focus on external factors. Additionally, a common stress response is to tense up, which can create negative repercussions on your body such as tension headaches/migraines, and muscle/joint aches. Yoga poses are meant to help ease that tension and find a sense of relaxation both physically and mentally. As you continue your practice, you may find that the stiffness in your body will ease progressively and help you relax more than you are accustomed to! A pose such as a child’s pose can help you ease your mind and take you back to the relaxation you may have experienced when you were younger.
Overall, mind-body practices such as yoga and meditation can improve stress-related responses and help you find peace or stillness. For better mental health, we need to remember that our body needs mental and physical stimulation and the practice of yoga helps with this. Remember, you do not need to be super flexible or have a certain “look” to start your practice. Yoga involves a sense of awareness and deep breathing, which can improve our quality of life as well as our psychological and spiritual practices.