Yoga is practised by millions and millions of people worldwide. Many who practise Yoga seek the physical benefits that it’s proven to provide. But there are also powerful mental health benefits of practicing Yoga too.
The beauty of Yoga is that there is a style to suit every level and age. There are so many types of Yoga! Whether you’re after a fire-y flow or something more soothing, the practice of Yoga can really provide so many benefits. The physical activity itself, or the Yoga poses, plus the meditation and breathing techniques, together provide many benefits, both mentally and physically.
How Does Yoga Help Mental Health?
Although the mental benefits that Yoga provides are harder to measure than physical, it has been known for centuries that taking Yoga classes can be mentally beneficial for everyone, but especially for older people with higher blood pressure, people that suffer from depression and anxiety, and people who deal with post-traumatic stress.
Of course, it is important if you do suffer from any of these conditions that you first seek one on one medical advice before you jump into a Yoga class.
Overall the simple fact that Yoga is a presence practice is a major reason why it will benefit your mental health. Rather than tuning into every thought that runs around your mind (there are around 70 000 of them each day!), Yoga will teach you how to be present. Yoga will show you that life lives only in the present.
Yoga will help you deal with the anxiety of the future and stress of the past, as the core practice and the goal of Yoga is to bring you back into the now. Imagine how your life would be if you didn’t feel the guilt or anger of the past? If you didn’t feel the anxiety and the what if’s of the future?
Yoga doesn’t stop these thoughts (the mind is designed to think after all) but it helps you decipher the thoughts. It helps you tune into the true thoughts and tune out the fear ridden thoughts.
Several studies conducted by Harvard Medical School suggest that some of the main benefits of yoga for mental health include:
Yoga releases feel good chemicals.
There are several Yoga poses, such as the tree pose, downward dog, child’s pose… actually any Yoga pose and movement in general, will trigger the release of feel good brain chemicals.
These feel good chemicals include dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, which will leave you feeling good and happier after your yoga classes, which is also going to translate into your daily life.
Yoga movements will make the muscles work hard, elevate your heart rate, and stimulate the release of these feel good chemicals.
Yoga can ease anxiety
If you suffer from anxiety in your daily life, practicing Yoga can improve this issue.
One aspect of Yoga that is going to be very beneficial for easing anxiety, is breath work and breathing techniques. This is because there is a relationship between your breath and how you feel. If you’re not breathing properly this can lead to feeling anxious.
Learning breathing techniques during your Yoga class is going to help you apply them in your daily life when your anxiety may become present.
Yoga allows you to create a little toolbox of action steps you can turn to during these moments.
An example is, when you feel the anxiety creep in, stop, close your eyes and begin to simply feel your breath entering and leaving the nostrils. This technique is called Anapana, and is the first practice learned during Vipassana meditation.
It sounds very simple and what it does is simply bring you into the present moment and take you out of the racing thoughts within your mind.
Yoga can help relieve depression
Several studies conducted over the years have found that, when it comes to treating and relieving the symptoms of depression, the effects of Yoga are comparable to psychotherapy and medication.
Of course, we will note again the importance of seeking medical help here before self-prescribing. We don’t condone Dr Google It.
However, from what we have read through various studies and results, practising Yoga regularly can benefit those with depressive disorders and other depression-related disorders.
Yoga reduces stress
While other physical activities and forms of exercise such as running, swimming, and weightlifting, can be very intense, Yoga is known for being a very relaxing physical activity.
It is quite normal for someone to live every day in their sympathetic nervous system. This is your fight or flight. This causes the cortisol in your body to rise. This is why it is so important to allocate time to relax and restore. Yoga is a perfect practice for this, as during a class you will be encouraged to lengthen your breath and breathe in and out through your nose. This simple notion of nasal breathing will communicate to your body to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system. This is your rest and digest system… the state in which the body can restore cells.
When you practice Yoga, Cortisol (the stress hormone) lowers and it’s been found that the size of the hippocampus can grow when you practice Yoga. This area of the brain helps us deal with anxiety and stress.
Yoga is often practiced in a peaceful atmosphere, which is another aspect of yoga that adds an extra level of relaxation to the equation. We always encourage our Members to find a space in their home where they can create some ‘me time’.
Checkout this 15 minute Yoga class for stress relief.
Yoga can improve sleep
Several studies have shown that practising yoga regularly can improve sleep, especially for older adults that suffer from different sleep issues.
Practising yoga regularly is going to improve both the quality and quantity of sleep in the long run. Yoga can also increase sleep efficiency, which is the percentage of time spent in bed that is spent sleeping. This means no more tossing and turning and endless sleepless nights.
Yoga really is an amazing practice that allows you to learn techniques on the mat that you end up walking off the mat.
Practising yoga can improve social life
Struggling with mental health issues can often make you feel lonely and isolated. That feeling of always searching for company and connection but never feeling able to find it.
Attending a yoga class in person or joining a like minded online community (like MerryBody) means interacting with others in your group, which benefits you mentally and physically. This will give you a sense of belonging and bonding.
Inside MerryBody we like to think of us as a family… it’s such a supportive and welcoming community, we love spending time in the group every single day, it really provides an uplifting energy.
If you’re now feeling excited at the possibility of trying out a Yoga class, we have a free 20 minute class available for you here. All you need to do is enter your name and email address and you will get instant access to the class.
The class is called Desk Worker Upper Body Yoga and it really helps you to decrease tension in the shoulders, chest and upper back. You really are about to feel great after this class!
If you do the class, let us know all about it!
Emma + Carla