29 Oct 4 Mental Health Benefits Of Yoga In Your Every Day Life
Stepping off your mat leaves you feeling elevated, calm and collected. Yoga can turn a gloomy day into a brighter one in no time. It can shift not only your mood but also cumulatively improve your overall mental state. Yoga can transform you from being stressed out to the max to finding your way to calm a little easier. People retreat to their mats as a sanctuary away from their busy and hectic lives. So, for Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s take a closer look at the benefits of this ancient practice.
Our daily lives have become more and more hectic and so have we. Our mental health is often challenged more than ever, begging us to re-evaluate and prioritise self-care. Yoga is a tool to refill your empty cup and recharge, no matter what style you practice. It doesn’t come to a surprise then that yoga has been becoming more and more popular over the last decade, becoming much more accessible through various studios in every big city to online classes on demand.
As a yogi, you know that yoga is not about the asanas that we contort ourselves into on the mat; but rather about us turning our gaze inwards and finding stillness. It’s returning to our breath and staying in the present moment, listening to our bodies instead of our ego and returning to our natural state. It’s a holistic practice for the mind, body and spirit.
Here are four ways that yoga can benefit your mental health beyond the mat.
Natural anxiety relief
We mostly are caught up in our asana practice, trying to look like the perfect yogi. What we most often overlook at least at the beginning of our yoga practice is focusing on our breath. Breath is considered a more important physical-emotional-mental-spiritual practice than asana.
When you are on your mat, you are taking conscious breaths. Your deep breaths signal your body that it can be at ease. Your body relaxes out of fight-or-flight mode and returns to its natural state. It relaxes and calms down — reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration.
Breath is vitally tied to our mental state. We all know instinctively that, when someone is upset, to tell them to take a few deep breaths. Our breath both reflects our level of stress and affects our level of stress. Have you watched your breath over a day? If not, give it a go and you’ll notice that your breath is often very shallow and rapid, especially if you are stressed. You might notice you hold your breath a lot because many people do. It’s a good reminder to take a few rounds of conscious breaths throughout the day, just to re-centre your whole body and mind.
But not only throughout your every day, notice your breath on your mat. Are you evenly breathing throughout your practice? Or are there times you are trying so hard to nail that pose that you forget to breathe? Always listen to your breath, it’s a great way to check in on yourself and your general wellbeing.
Yoga, then, may help fight anxiety and depression alone or in combination with traditional methods of treatment. Yoga may have an anti-depressant effect because yoga can decrease levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that influences levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter often associated with depression.
In your yoga practice, you are encouraged to look inwards and over time discover who you really are. You are slowly getting to know yourself and cultivate a more nonjudgmental relationship with yourself. This self-inquiry, svadhyaya in Sanskrit, can bring about empowering and permanent shifts in your quality of life, your health, and your complete being. There is tremendous power in just knowing what is going on within. But we so rarely really look within us, because/ instead, we are overstimulated externally.
We all know THAT pose, that one you, as soon as you come into, just want to get out of. Perhaps the pose seems too hard or frustrating or it may even trigger some reaction in you. And we’re sure you’ve heard your teacher saying that the real yoga starts when you want to get out of a pose in at least one class. It’s so true. The poses are here to teach you something. So next time you find yourself wanting to wriggle out of a “difficult to you”-pose, simply pause, drop into your centre, and check-in with what’s actually happening on the inside. If it’s a physical thing you are becoming aware, then take your modification. If it’s not, what can you witness about your mind and its old responses to discomfort?
If it’s a mental or emotional issue that arises in the pose, then don’t act on that emotion right away — just be with it. It might have something to teach you. When dealing with mental beliefs that come up in a pose, it can be empowering to ask yourself, What would happen if I stay in that pose instead of leaving it straight away? It will not be easy, quite the opposite, it can be very challenging to stay in your uncomfortable state, but it will be rewarding in the end and you will take away new learnings about you every time. Over time you naturally take your learnings beyond your mat.
As you discover who you are with all your strengths, flaws, gifts and fears, you become more aware of who you truly are. You become more confident in who you are and more rooted in your sense of self and your centre, developing a healthy and balanced ego. Discovering you have nothing to prove and nothing to hide, you become courageous.
When you’re more centred and more peaceful with yourself, you’ll be the same way with your partner, family, colleagues and friends. 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. You might take a deep breath before reacting to whatever is challenging you at that moment. Acting more from your heart than your heated head.
Efficient yoga practice helps you amplify the resilience and grace it takes to move toward what serves you fiercely and away from what and who does not. Self-inquiry practices are vital pieces to uplevel your discernment. They will support you to develop the higher aspects of your mind by connecting you with your internal GPS.
The more you look within for the answers and make shifts guided by the inner wisdom that self-inquiry practice nurtures, the smaller that gap between who you are and how you are living becomes. Deeply listening to what goes on on the inside and trusting that deep inside you already know the answers to your life questions. Listening to your soul’s and heart’s calling is showing you your life’s path. All you need to do is listen in. Trusting yourself through the whole process is key. And that is the most difficult challenge of them all.
The yoking of solar and lunar in yoga makes us recognise qualities in ourselves that we were not aware of, helping us be more mindful. How do we look at those places in our bodies where we hold tension, tightness, knots of energy? That’s typically where we are holding our psychological or emotional energy. As we work from the outside in, our asana practice becomes important. We already touched base on this above, that some poses can trigger us more than others some days.
A backbend will open your heart and release the stiffness between the shoulder blades. At some point, you can have some emotional release, which you may or may not be conscious of. It’s about doing the inner work to shift or change. It’s about being open to doing your best with your weaknesses and faults. You will become aware and shine a light on your darker sides, which will also help you in slowly healing and ultimately releasing some negative thought patterns, that you repeatedly come back to overtime.
There is no denying that yoga can be a powerful tool to keep your stress and mental health in check. Taking time out to look after yourself is so important. Re-filling your own cup is crucial. Remember that you cannot give from an empty cup. Whether it’s energy, service anything really. You need to receive yourself, so send your body and mind some love. Self-care is different to everyone, sometimes it’s a cup of tea in the sunshine, barefoot in the grass or just opening a window and taking in the fresh air. Your body and most of it all your overall mental health will thank you for it.
Taking time out of your busy day to roll out your mat and focus on yourself can be a bit tricky someday. If you don’t have the time to fit in a class at any of the Power Living studios, give our online yoga studio, yogaholics, a try. You can still practice with your favourite Power Living teachers, just in your own home. How good is that?
We have the perfect class for you to start re-connecting to your breath, as it is so essential to our mental health but challenging to master. Let Shauna Hawke’s take you through the science of why breathing is so important, as well as giving you a couple of options to help you relax in times of need. So pop in your headphones, and you are ready to go.
When was the last time you have taken a conscious breath today?
Written by Yoga Journal