Yoga for Mental Health
Msc (psychology), NLP
@Islaah Center for Psychological Wellness
“Yoga is a psychology—the whole practice helps us work with the nature of the mind, the nature of being a human, how emotions live in our bodies, how they affect our behavior and our minds,” Yoga functions like a self-soothing technique in that it alters the stress response system, helping to “tame” and quiet down the nervous system. In this way, the mental benefits of yoga are witnessed with the reduction of stress by way of decreased cortisol (stress hormone) levels in our body.
Yoga does the body good, and according to a new study, it may ease the mind as well. Their findings suggest that yoga does in fact have positive effects on mild depression and sleep problems, and it improves the symptoms of psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and ADHD among patients using medication.
If you practice yoga, then you most likely have experienced the “high” that yoga offers—that feeling like you are grounded in your body, calm, connected, clear, and centered. In this space, it might feel like a dark cloud that was following you around prior to class has suddenly disappeared. Or, that negative thought, emotion, or physical sensation eating away at you has miraculously subsided. You float away from your practice, and no unwanted experience can detract from your calm and peace. This is why yoga is often touted for its calming and relaxing effects on both mind and body.
Above and beyond the calm and relaxation, you also may have experienced a deeper connection between your mind and body, as well as more intimacy with your internal experiences, e.g., thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. And, perhaps you have noticed that with this deeper connection and intimacy comes less judgment and evaluation of those internal experiences. This process translates into that state of bliss we experience after our practice, and arguably leads to less suffering in our lives (emotional health and well-being). Hence, yoga for mental health has received increasing attention from both yogis and scientists alike, with the benefits of yoga for mental health traversing several areas ranging from mood and anxiety disorders to stress reduction.
6 Ways Yoga Benefits Your Mental Health
Yoga teacher and licensed psychotherapist Ashley Turner says yoga is the key to psychological and emotional healing as well as resolving issues with self-confidence, relationships, family of origin issues and more.
- It moves you from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system, or from flight-or-flight to rest-and-digest. You typically have less anxiety and enter a more relaxed state. As soon as you start breathing deeply, you slow down out of fight-or-flight and calm your nervous system.
- It helps you build your sense of self. Through yoga, you get to know yourself and cultivate a more nonjudgmental relationship with yourself. You are building self-trust. You exercise more and eat healthier, because your unconscious mind tells you, “I’m worthy of this me time, this effort.” At the end of the day, everything comes down to your relationship with yourself.
- When you get more confident and become more rooted in your sense of self and your center, you develop a healthy, balanced ego, where you have nothing to prove and nothing to hide. You become courageous, with high willpower. You’re not afraid of difficult conversations—you know you’re still going to be OK at the end of the day.
- It improves your romantic relationship. When you’re more centered and more peaceful with yourself, you’ll be the same way with your partner—you’ll view them through the same lens of compassionate, unconditional love. You’re less reactive—for example, you may know that snapping at your partner is not a wise choice.
- It helps you become aware of your “shadow” qualities. The yoking of solar and lunar (light and dark) in yoga makes us recognize qualities in ourselves that we were not aware of, helping us be more mindful.
- It helps you deal with family of origin issues. Essentially that’s our karma—we can’t give back our family, we’re born into it. It’s about owning what I call sacred wounds (rather than blaming) and taking them on more mindfully. You’re the only one that can change—the only thing you can do is control your actions and your behavior. Other people will inevitably be forced to show up in a different way you’re showing up in a different way. Think of the Warrior poses—yoga helps you rise up and do your best.
Yoga Provides The Health Benefits Of Physical Exercise: Psychologists have long known that moderate exercise is good for depression and anxiety. Such exercise can easily be found in Yoga practice. Yoga postures are designed to promote physical strength, flexibility and balance. Anyone who has ever taken a Yoga class will attest that there are cardio/heart benefits to be had; your heart rate is frequently up while performing postures much as it would be if you were performing more conventional exercise. Though Yoga gets your heart rate up and your endorphins pumping, it also provides for many rest periods. These rest periods lend a gentle quality to the conditioning that makes it easier to endure than ‘marathon’ style exercise. You seldom feel as though you can’t go on.
As with any physical workout, Yoga practice concentrates your mind on the physical sensations and on the perfection of the postures. The immersive concentration factor Yoga provides works as a helpful tonic for anxious and obsessional people. The practice of Yoga (or most any other demanding physical exercise) can be a great distraction from worry as it forces the mind to attend to the body and the breathing; the moment.