In our society, yoga is often considered a beneficial form of exercise and physical health. But, did you know that it is an excellent resource to improve overall mental health as well. Not only are you working on building strength for your physical health but you are building strength and resilience for your mental health. There are several different areas in which yoga can improve overall mental health.
- Deep breathing: Yoga starts and ends with an emphasis on deep breathing while also emphasizing it throughout your practice. You begin by taking deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth by using your diaphragm to get the deepest breath you can. Then as you move through your practice you utilize your Ujjayi breath which requires that you breathe in through your nose and then breathe out without opening your mouth. This helps calm your mind and warm your body for the practice you are about to participate in. This helps quiet your sympathetic nervous system, which is used when you are anxious or stressed and calls forward the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows you to relax and know that you are safe.
- Setting an intention: You want to set an intention when you work through your yoga practice. This can be anything! Whether there’s a word you want to focus on throughout your practice or a self-affirmation you want to repeat, this will help you remain focused on the present moment rather than jumping ahead to what is happening after.
- Stillness: You are teaching your body to remain still; helping it to be present. When you are practicing both deep breathing and poses, you have to remain still. This stillness pushes you to continue with your practice and give your all to it.
- Poses: When you practice various yoga poses, you are listening to your body. If the pose feels good or pushes you well, you continue it. If it feels like it’s too much for your body at the moment, you can return to a pose that brings you peace and relaxation. You are strengthening your body which also strengthens your mind.
- Shavasana: When practicing yoga, you always end with the pose Shavasana or “Corpse Pose”. This sounds intense, but all it requires is to lay down on your mat. This pose requires stillness and helps you to remain focused on the present. This helps bookend your practice with deep, intentional breaths in order to end practice how you began; relaxed and at peace.
People can be hesitant at times to give yoga a try because it is an old practice that stems from a religious perspective. However, you do not have to use it in that manner. It is overall such a positive exercise to help increase “body awareness, relieve stress, reduce muscle tension, sharpen attention and concentration, and calm the nervous system” (). If you find yourself needing help in any of these areas, as well as many areas not mentioned, give yoga a try! If you keep at it, you will notice serious improvement in your overall mental health and wellbeing.
Lauren Puckett | MA, LPC