Yoga is a practice that was developed thousands of years ago. Recently however, it has become much more commonplace, with many gyms now making yoga available as a fitness class and many people practicing and reaping the benefits of yoga. In fact, yoga has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. In fact yoga improves mental health overall for many people.
So what is it about this practice that makes it so powerful?
As my younger sister often says “yoga’s secret is available to anyone who chooses to practice it”. While firsthand experience allows for more perspective, I will use my personal experiences with this practice to communicate why and how yoga improves mental health.
1) Yoga helps you find your inner silence
Yoga involves focusing on your breath. This requires significant focus, as some yoga poses require substantial physical exertion. Therefore, this focus on breath during difficult poses helps enhance concentration. During the practice, this is meditative and calming, and helps practitioners to relax into stressful body postures.
Likewise, in daily life, this has helped me find silence and calm during chaotic times, through the art of concentration. Concentrating on one thing at a time, or on what is most important, has helped reduce stress in my daily life.
2) Yoga helps you release your emotions
Many poses in yoga cause us physical stress and tension. This stress and tension is released upon entering a resting pose, which is physically therapeutic. While some poses are soft and focus on opening our hearts, other poses focus on strength and are termed as such (e.g. warrior poses). The stress involved in these poses often allows us to find our emotional tension and frustrations. Fittingly, the resting poses that follow act as a release for these emotions. Thereby, these sequences are also emotionally therapeutic.
3) Yoga allows you to get in touch with your body and how it feels
During yoga, there is a large emphasis on our bodies and how they feel. During the practice, we are often guided to notice how parts of our bodies feel during different poses and stretches. This simply helps us understand what our body is trying to tell us. Do our backs hurt? Is there tension in our shoulders? Why are we feeling the way we feel, and what feels better to us? Noticing these sensations may help us realize that we would perhaps like to strengthen our backs, or gain flexibility in our hips, or stop carrying tension in our shoulders. We can then make the appropriate life changes to fulfill these wants.
4) Yoga improves your physical health
Exercise in general has been shown to improve mental health in a variety of ways, and yoga is undoubtedly a form of exercise. In fact it is a form of exercise that has been shown to increase flexibility and muscle strength, and improve the functioning of both our respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Yoga has also been found to aid specific medical conditions. Various studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of yoga in reducing disease symptoms of arthritis, including swollen joints and pain. Other studies have found yoga to be effective in treating migraines. Thus, yoga can unmistakably contribute to our physical health in a variety of ways. It is therefore through your physical health that yoga improves mental health.
5) Yoga promotes balance
Yoga is a practice that helps connect mind, body and soul. The poses are physical, which involves the body; practitioners learn to focus their attention, which requires the mind; and through calm, yoga allows for increased awareness of the physical and/or spiritual world around us, which some would say involves our soul. This means that we are able to improve our physical, mental and spiritual health in one practice (three birds with one stone!). It also means that while many practice yoga for the physical benefits, they receive both the spiritual and mental health benefits as well.
It is clear that yoga improves mental health. Perhaps you, too, can benefit from this practice. The easiest way to find out is to try it!
A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.