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Mind - Body - Spirit

How Yoga can positively influence our mental health

CW: This article discusses topics of mental health issues which could be distressing to some readers.

Photo by Natalie at Pexels

Cat-cow, child’s pose, tree, mountain and, my personal favourite, the sleepy shavasana; yoga is the trending wellness practise of 2022 that seeks to enhance both physical and mental health. Globally, there are 300 million yoga practitioners today, a rise attributed to the stress-inducing, anxiety- causing and uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Originating in India between the 1st and 5th century CE, the art of Yoga was first recorded by Hindi sage Patanjali who helpfully set out the basic principles and techniques in 196 manuals called Yoga Sutras. Whilst thorough, not quite the digestible TikTok for the time-poor, 21st century generation. However, it could be argued that society today, particularly our goal-orientated, results-driven, western society, is in dire need of yoga and its mental health benefits more than ever. Thankfully, increased accessibility through online classes and the normalisation of self care routines, means we can begin to regulate our stress response systems. Yoga can increase our endorphins to decrease depression and bring self-awareness to ease anxiety through mediation and breathing.

Stretching your comfort zone

In class you might hold a pose for a second or a minute, and more often than not you will be stretching a muscle group. Whether that’s the hip flexors in runners lunge or glutes in bridge. The act of finding space in your body, length in your joints and room for movement can have a parallel affect in your head space. A simultaneous ‘space-finding’ moment inside your mind. Whilst being single-mindedly focused on fully feeling the pose and sensing your body’s individuals response to the stretch, it is possible to experience mental clarification. Perhaps not an awe-inspiring, inter-plane dimensional, lifting off the floor hardcore yogi moment, but a sense of awareness, however small, is experienced by everyone.

In today's world of hustle culture, jam-packed schedules and deadlines due yesterday, we are all exhausted keeping up with the to-do list and one of the highlights of yoga, is leaving those at the door. For this hour, you are free from your mental burdens because there is simply no room for them on the mat. And, yes, that does feel uncomfortable and even selfish. Its almost laughable how awkward we can feel spending 5 minutes in meditation at the beginning or end of a session. How dare I sit cross legged like a school child whilst I collect my thoughts? However, by giving ourselves guilt-free permission to explore those moments of quiet, of stillness and uninterrupted peace, we allow our unconscious mind to build a new comfort zone for reflection.

I am worthy of this me time. I am investing in my own self-care. I am enough.

Photo by Natalie at Pexels

Holding your breath

The practise of breath regulation, sometimes called breath work, is called Pranayama, and it is the core component of yoga to be used in conjunction with the low-impact exercise. Did you know that in Sanskrit, “prana” means life energy and “yama” means control? When we think about how Anxiety is often related to a sense of control, usually a lack of a sense of control in life, it is easy to see how Pranayama could be beneficial.

The purposeful, and mindful, patterns of inhaling, holding and exhaling in specific sequences, has therapeutic effects linked to decreased Carbon Dioxide and an increased uptake of oxygen: energy for your brain and nervous system. In fact, a 2013 study, looking at the effect of Pranayama practised by students before taking exams, proved a significant reduction in test-performance anxiety due to the calming influence of breath work on the nervous system.

Some typical breathing techniques in Pranayama are Bastrika (Bellows breath), Ujjayi (Victorious breath) and Bhramari (Humming Breath). If you have ever felt the need to, quite literally, blow away your problems, vaporize your worries and eject the negativity, may I kindly suggest a 5 minute session on mindful breathing from the above. If nothing else, you have learnt some triple-pointers for scrabble.

A flexible mindset

In summary, yoga is a wonderful tool to not only combat symptoms of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, but can also offer understanding to the root cause. Meditation and self-reflection are features of yoga inextricably linked to greater sense of self-awareness.

To start your journey, try a few short introduction lessons with YouTube sensation YogawithAdriene, no pressure, this is guilt-free YOU time.

Showing up on the mat is showing up for yourself.



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