The ancient discipline of yoga incorporates poses to stretch and flex the muscles, deeper, diaphragmatic breathing, and meditation. All of which build strength, clarity, awareness and harmony between mind and body. It’s obvious that yoga provides many physical benefits like flexibility, core strength and cardio, and circulatory health. But now, more than ever, we’re concerned about our mental health too. Self-care is the latest buzzword and with more and more of us addicted to social media, the ongoing global pandemic and life lived at a ridiculously fast pace nowadays, many of us are looking inwards at our own inner mental health.
Yoga and Mental Health
With millions around the world taking up yoga, there’s been a plethora of research around it confirming what we already knew! Regular yoga practice has numerous mental health benefits. These include:
- Fights depression
- Promotes better sleep
- Relieves anxiety
- Combats fatigue
- Decreases stress
- Improves focus
- Improves tolerance to pain
It’s a pretty impressive tick-list, isn’t it? There’s no doubt that yoga can enhance your experience of daily life. Of course, life gets in the way sometimes, but that said, yoga is the perfect form of exercise. It can be done anywhere, any-time, alone or with others and aside from a yoga mat, there’s not much else you need to get going. Incidentally, we love the Yogi Bare Teddy Non-Slip Yoga Mat, perfectly portable with superb grip. Get one of these and you can get your fix of yoga anytime you want!
Mental Health and Meditation
Many yoga devotees practise regular meditation alongside their yoga and it’s a lovely way to finish your yoga routine.
It’s always been believed that meditation has extensive neurological benefits and finally, it's being backed by science too. The results of recent research have been truly outstanding because regular mindfulness meditation actually makes changes to the brain, increasing grey matter that handles memories, learning and emotional regulation. Other studies have also proven that it increases focus and concentration and lowers levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. All of which enhance our mental health, lifestyle, quality of sleep and of course have knock-on positive effects for our physical health too.
Can Yoga Help Anxiety, Depression and Stress
Stress, anxiety, and depression are often inter-linked, and it can be difficult to discern where one stops, and another begins. They can manifest in so many ways too and each person’s experience of mental illness is unique. It can reveal itself through physical sickness, having a tight chest, experiencing emotional outbursts, suffering low mood, as well as poor sleep, physical aches and pains and unhealthy coping strategies like eating disorders or alcohol abuse.
On the other hand, yoga and meditation promote relaxation, the polar opposite to anxiety, stress, and depression. They build on your ability to stay centred, calm, and focused, strategies that are vital for stress management. By simply taking a pause to breathe, meditate, or stretch, the mind is cleared and instantly re-directed away from the source or trigger.
Yogic breathing is so much deeper and controlled. Ultimately that means that more oxygen is inhaled and gets to your organs. So your body can relax it's fight or flight mechanism and decrease the amount of cortisol it's releasing because there’s no threat to receiving oxygen, its lifeblood.
So, next time you start to experience anxiety or feel stressed, try holding your arms up, then go into a side bend. Take a deep inhalation as you bend into the pose, hold it, then breathe out as you come up. Just by doing this seemingly innocuous pose, the relaxation process will be kickstarted. Cortisol in your system decreases and guess what? You feel more relaxed and less stressed.
Yoga and meditation also give you a greater awareness of what’s happening to your body so it’s easier to spot the early signs of a mental health issue. They keep you in the moment which is great because so many mental health issues are around what may happen in the future. Learning to be present is a great tool for managing mental health.
And because yoga is exercise, it’s a natural way to get serotonin, ‘the happy hormone’, flowing. It’s thought that this hormone is a major factor of depression and those that suffer from it, often have lower levels. Exercising makes you feel happier and more positive, couple that with focusing on the present and feeling relaxed and you can see why many are viewing yoga as an effective therapy for depression.
If you enjoyed reading this article, try ‘5 Things Improving Your Flexibility can do for your Mental Health’ or ’10 Grounding Activities to Release Stress’.