The benefits of Yoga are vast in supporting our holistic wellbeing, it can help us to feel more relaxed, more centred and less stressed. It can improve flexibility, build strength, deepen our spirituality, improve our concentration levels and help us to reconnect with our bodies, but how exactly can Yoga help to improve our Mental Health?
With NHS waiting lists bursting at the seams, a mental health crisis in our midst and 74% of UK adults feeling so stressed at some point over the last year they felt unable to cope (according to the Mental Health Foundation), it really is more important than ever that we look after ourselves. A growing body of research shows that Yoga can have a direct impact on our Mental Wellbeing, here’s how:
It helps you to reconnect with your breath & support your nervous system.
Breathing is something we all do and we all have access to 24/7 but did you know that breath-work and intentional, conscious breathing can help to strengthen your autonomic nervous system? The age old saying ‘stop & take a few deep breaths’ really was onto something. Deep, slow, focused breathing or pranayama (breath control) can help to activate our ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic nervous system and transport us out of our ‘threat response’, the sympathetic nervous system. Parasympathetic activity allows the body to heal and regenerate, performing integral functions to our health such as digestion, detoxification and building immunity. Focused breathing and pranayama are key elements of Yoga and the practise of uniting the body, breath and mind.
“Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness; increases body awareness; relieves chronic stress patterns; relaxes the mind; centers attention; and sharpens concentration,”
It can help to build mental resilience and improve cognitive functioning.
The more regularly we practice yoga, breath-work and meditation, the more mental resilience we can build to help prepare us for challenges. It’s important to remember that both healing and health are not linear, we will all experience highs and lows with our mental health throughout our lives, just as we all experience ups and downs with our physical health. The more we invest in our wellbeing, the more prepared we can be to face the difficult times life throws at us.
Yoga can also improve our cognitive functioning, helping to sharpen our concentration levels, improve focus and help us to feel more present. Mental health issues exist predominantly in the mind (though they can also affect us physically), and can have a significant impact on our lives and our ability to work, socialise and live a full and meaningful life. Yoga can help us to quiet our minds and to practice more presence, focusing on the here and now rather than ruminating on the past or worrying about the future.
“More than any other aspect of yoga, researchers have investigated how it affects individuals with mental health conditions. The results are overwhelmingly encouraging, suggesting that yoga helps improve mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among others.” Heather Mason , Certified Yoga Therapist
Article: How Yoga Can Support Mental Health
It helps you to move mindfully & to release tension, emotions and stress in the body and mind.
Yoga can help you to connect with your body and by combining mindful movement with breath-work the practice can also help to release stress, stagnant energy, emotional baggage and even trauma. Though Stress is not a mental health condition, long-term Stress can lead to mental health issues and Yoga has the ability to ease the impact stress can have on the body and the mind. If we look at the subtle energetic body, yoga can also help to shift energetic blockages through the chakra system.
“Physical health is clearly intertwined with mental health. Moving our bodies regularly is one of the key elements in the ecosystem of factors that keep us mentally and emotionally balanced.”
The John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation
Article: MOVE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH – REVIEW OF THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE ON THE ROLE OF EXERCISE AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY ON MENTAL HEALTH
Yoga promotes self-kindness, non-comparison and can help us to practice a more compassionate inner voice.
As Ancient Sage Patanjali explains in the Yoga Sutras, the purpose of yoga is to ‘still the turbulence of the mind’ and often when we’re struggling with our mental health that is exactly what we need, an opportunity to slow down, to help calm the relentless fluctuations of the mind and a reminder to be kinder to ourselves.
According to Dr. Lucy Hone, co-director of the NZ Institute of Wellbeing & Resilience, 76% of us are kinder to other people than we are to ourselves & three quarters of us have a pretty nasty inner critic which can make tough times of life even more challenging. Comparison can amplify negative self-talk but in Yoga we’re encouraged to let go of our ego and stop comparing ourselves to others on and off the mat. Yogic Philosophy teaches us to practice ‘Ahimsa’, non-violence, which includes speaking to ourselves unkindly and treating ourselves harmfully. The practice of self-compassion can drastically help to improve our mental health and transform critical self talk into a more compassionate inner voice.
“If you are continually judging and criticizing yourself while trying to be kind to others, you are drawing artificial boundaries and distinctions that only lead to feelings of separation and isolation.”
― Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself
Yoga can help us to feel less isolated and more connected to ourselves and others.
If there’s one thing we have all learnt from the pandemic it is that human beings need to feel connected to each other. We can’t heal in isolation and loneliness can significantly impact our mental health and is associated with higher anxiety, depression, and suicide rates.
When we struggle with our mental health we often feel alone in this experience and as though no one else can understand what we’re going through. There is a lot of shame associated with Mental Health and still far too much stigma surrounding it. One of the most powerful things that Yoga can provide is connection and an opportunity to share an experience centred around well-being with others, without the social pressure. Yoga can allow us to feel part of a community, to get out of our heads and into our bodies and to feel less alone.
“Long-term loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and increased stress. The impact of long-term loneliness on mental health can be very hard to manage.”
The Mental Health Foundation
Mental Health problems can deeply affect our relationship with ourselves and others, from how we speak to ourselves, treat ourselves and interact with those around us. Yoga is a powerful healing practice that can help to support our health holistically. Yoga can give us the tools to feel more connected to ourselves, to soothe and strengthen our nervous systems and to treat ourselves with more compassion.
About Liz Joy Oakley
Liz Joy Oakley is Yoga Teacher, Holistic Wellbeing Coach and Head of Vibes at MoreYoga, co-running our MoreMind Project with Stephanie Minchin, coordinating events, content and workshops focused on better supporting our communities mental and physical wellbeing. After starting her career in the fast-paced world of luxury fashion Liz came to Yoga after being diagnosed with Malignant Hypertension and Generalized Anxiety and left with the goal of helping others to lead healthier lives holistically. Liz went on to spent a year working at the Safe Childhoods Foundation in Indonesia, an NGO committed to combatting organized crimes against children, she began to understand the true benefits of Yoga, Meditation and Psychology as therapeutic tools and describes this as a time of total transformation.
Now back in London, Liz is passionate about helping people achieve a healthier, happier lifestyle through her work. She loves bringing people together, encouraging authentic connection and is happiest when facilitating retreats, workshops and events based around Yoga, Positive Psychology and Holistic Wellbeing.
Liz teaches Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin & Restorative Yoga, specialising in teaching Yoga, Mindfulness & Meditation to improve stress & anxiety. She combines this with her work as a Holistic Wellbeing Coach & is dedicated to spreading Joy through her work.
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