Yoga for mental health
At the end of a Yoga practice, lying down in Savasana, have you ever felt negative energy, tension or stress float away from your body?
As you surrender to Mother Earth… Have you observed the changes in your body, and felt grounded and centred in your being? Maybe you have even created space for new energy and creative pathways to enter…
In Sanskrit, Yoga means “to join” or “unite”. The practice of yoga brings awareness into our body, and allows us to observe the unity between our mind, body and soul. When people talk about yoga practice, they often discuss the physiological benefits to the body, such as increased flexibility and strength. However, yoga is not only about the physical changes to your body – Yoga for Mental Health also offers an endless number of psychological and mental health benefits.
Yoga asanas are designed to calm the mind, observe your thoughts without judgement, and bring you into the present moment. Into the here and now, the only moment that is and will ever be. Yoga allows us to connect with our internal experiences and watch our inner state of mind. This helps to bring about a state of bliss after our practice, which arguably leads to more clarity, and less suffering in our lives.
Yoga for Mental Health helps with Anxiety and Depression
Have you ever suffered from mental health? You are not alone. According to The World Health Organisation, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental health issues at some point in their lives. Yoga for Mental Health, with its focus on movement, body alignment, breath work and meditation, can help with alleviating anxiety and depression. Yoga encourages people to turn inwards, to observe the mind without judgement, and become aware of the present moment. This allows individuals to be more aware of their negative thoughts, and separate themselves from their ‘monkey mind’.
Yoga for Mental Health encourages us to be a witness to our mind, and to realise that we are not our thoughts. Turning inwards on the mat gives us space to face our inner world, to check in with ourselves and ask ‘how are you feeling today?’
The discomfort of physical sensations associated with anxiety, including sweaty palms and tightness of the chest, can also be addressed in a yoga practice. According to a study by Harvard University, yoga has the ability to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and improve respiration by increasing the flow of oxygen throughout the body. Yoga asanas are all about the breath. By becoming more aware of and engaged with your breath, yoga allows us to sync the Prana flowing in and out of our body with a sequence of Asanas and Vinyasas. This breath focus allows physical sensations to arise without our mind reacting and creating doubt, fear or anxiety in our thoughts. With continued practice, when uncomfortable physical sensations arise, we learn to accept without judgement, and simply come back to our breath. This technique of surrender becomes a process not only experienced on the mat, but also off the mat in day to day living.
Yoga helps with Stress
Do you often find yourself stressed and tense? From time to time, life can definitely challenge us. Whether it be from work, family life, finances, or social events, we have all experienced moments of stress, which places excessive demand on the body and mind. Stress puts your body in fight or flight mode, which when functioning regularly in this way, can severely impact your physical and mental health. This not only puts a strain on your immune system, digestion and heart, but also is a leading cause of depression, anxiety and isolation. According to the British Psychological Society, Yoga asanas and breathing techniques have proven to release stress hormone levels and tension throughout the body. The focus on breath during yoga asanas encourages us to let go and surrender to our thoughts and monkey mind, which can plants seeds of doubt, worry or fear. Coming back to the breath helps to calm our mind, alleviating stress about the past or future, and bringing us balanced and centred in the present moment.
Yoga for Mental Health helps with Trauma
Traumatic experiences such as mental or physical abuse, or military combat, often leave people with a deep-rooted sense of fear and closing off of the mind and body to themselves and people around them. Yoga for Mental Health practice helps people to step on the path of an inner journey, to rediscover themselves and ignite the flame within. Syncing breath with movement becomes a beautiful moving meditation which allows people to face their fears by facing themselves. Observing the mind through asanas opens up our body and our heart. Yoga practice provides a space to observe any unpleasant internal experiences in a supportive and safe environment. It brings clarity, calmness and relaxation to the trauma experienced.
Yoga for Mental Health helps with Self Love
One of the most important and often most challenging aspects of life is self love. It is so plain, so simple and so clear, yet we often forget the importance of self acceptance for our mental health. When jumping on the yoga mat, we are often told to surrender, to let go, to accept each moment for what it is. To observe our body and love it for how it is today. By coming back to our breath, and realising the miracle of Prana, we can accept that in this moment, we are enough, are whole and beautiful. During our practice, we are told not to look around, not to judge ourselves or others, or compare ourselves to others. Yoga for Mental Health is in fact the opposite of sport or physical exercise, which is often associated with competition and comparing, where one person is first, and one unlucky person is last. Yoga is unity, we are all one. This feeling of oneness in a yoga space helps to eradicate the ego, and converts the ‘I Am’ to ‘We Are’. To know that everyone on their mat around you is here for their own, beautiful inner journey. We are all walking towards the light, which is growing within the centre of our hearts.
All yogis can relate to the overwhelming feeling of bliss while lying down in Savasana after a yoga practice. Calm and relaxed, observing the buzz of particles moving throughout your body, and feeling that one step closer to your true self. This is the path of self realisation. This is the path of self acceptance. This is the path of self love.
Yoga in an ancient tool for connecting the mind, body and spirit. Yoga for Mental Health is a beautiful method for alleviating mental health issues, and facing moments of anxiety, depression, stress or trauma. Whether you love a rigorous power Vinyasa flow, or prefer a gentle restorative class, all paths of yoga will ultimately lead us to that state of bliss, that light at the end of the tunnel, that gateway to our truth.
Do you want to deepen your own practice, expand your knowledge of four main Yoga styles, or teach classes anywhere in the world? At Mahi Yoga School, students are given the opportunity to explore Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Iyengar in the 200 hour Teacher Training. Come and explore the path of yoga with us in Dharamshala, India!
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
“May all beings in the Universe be happy and free”