Two important activities, exercise and meditation, are both recommended as effective ways in boosting one’s mental health. What if there was a way in which they could be blended together in a practice allowing you to practice meditation and deep breathing, and build strength, endurance and flexibility all at once?
The solution is simple, and one that already exists: yoga.
Yoga for mental health
Derived from yog, the Sanskrit word meaning union, yoga works to reestablish and/or strengthen the connection between the mind, body and spirit. In a typical yoga practice, you flow from one pose to the next as you are guided by the inhales and exhales of the breath. The intentional breathing helps to deepen a stretch, hold a balance, transfer out of or into a pose or relax all the muscles after a particularly challenging hold.
In addition, yoga works to quiet the mind and help you focus any frantic scattered thoughts on what’s happening right in front of you, that is, stepping onto the mat and focusing on the yogic practice.
The physical Benefits of Yoga are to create a toned, flexible, and strong body, to improve posture, to improve energy level, to help maintain a balanced metabolism, to enhance functioning of respiratory, digestive, endocrine, reproductive and elimination systems, to reduce blood pressure, to improve efficiency of lungs, to enhance sleep, to promote cardiovascular and circulatory health, to relieve pain, to improve athletic performance and to improve balance. The major psychological benefits of Yoga are to calm the mind, to attune people to the environment, to enhance concentration and mental clarity, to reduce stress and anxiety, to encourage positive thoughts and self-acceptance and to promote flexibility followed by the spiritual benefits in which the awakening the spirit, building of healthy spiritual awareness, promotion of interdependence between mind, body, and spirit, enhancing the concept of oneness of all things and connecting personal energy to divine energy are incorporated.
Reducing stress and anxiety
Yoga increases levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, a natural chemical released to promote feelings of calm and wellbeing, thereby reducing stress and anxiety.
Yoga, through its dependence on breathing techniques, further increases that sense of calm. Taking deep breaths is one of the surest ways of calming the mind; it’s a default phrase for many when they’re trying to help someone through moments of panic or high anxiety. Taking a deep breath increases the flow of oxygen to the brain, promotes feelings of clarity and reduces the impact of stress on the mind and body.
Getting enough sleep is not only an important means of taking care of your physical body (lack of sleep can severely disrupt one’s proper immune functioning), it’s also necessary for your mental health. Yoga is an effective way of increasing your sleep quality, falling asleep easier and going back to sleep if you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night. In fact, a national survey reported 55% of yogis claimed better sleep quality once yoga became a part of their routine.
The breathing exercises, reduction of stress and physical challenge on the body all contributes to improvement of sleep.
Enhance concentration and mental clarity
Meditation is an important aspect of yoga, combining both yoga and meditation’s benefits. This includes enhanced concentration and mental clarity. Yoga requires a focus on the connectedness of the body and breath as you breathe during a balance or move through a standing pose. Sometimes it takes increased concentration just to keep you from falling over.
Meditation, complements this mental centering on the present moment as it requires the mind to be fully present to everything going on around you – the music, the breathing of the individual next to you in class, the voice of the instructor, the smell of the essential oils or the feel of sweat on the mat – and let them exist judgement-free before letting them go. Their presence doesn’t affect you in any way, they just happen to be there. This is incorporated more intentionally in different forms of yoga, but also generally in each practice, such as when holding a difficult pose but allowing your breathing to guide you and hold you through it even so.
Battling chronic pain can be incredibly wearing on one’s mental health, but yoga, through meditation as well as physical enhancement and increased flexibility as promoted by yogic practices, can help to minimize pain and promote overall mental wellness.
The poses are designed to stretch and strengthen all areas of the body. Certain poses will target certain areas, such as stiff knees, achy shoulders or a weak core. The poses will work to stretch the muscles, as well as strengthen them to reduce pain and increase strength.
Yoga as a supplement to mental health treatment
Many treatment centers are turning to yoga as a holistic, non-invasive and restorative practice for mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and even substance use disorder. To begin your treatment journey with holistic options like yoga, contact Tapestry today at 828-490-4032.