Yoga is a systematic practice of physical exercise, breath control, relaxation, diet control, and positive thinking and meditation aimed at developing harmony in the body, mind, and environment. Most people are familiar with the physical poses or yoga positions but we are not fully aware of the unbelievable benefits of yoga.
If you practice yoga, then you most likely have experienced the “high” that yoga offers that feeling like you are grounded in your body, calm, connected, clear, and centered. You float away from your practice, and no unwanted experience can detract from your calm and peace. This is why yoga is often touted for its calming and relaxing effects on both mind and body.Hence, yoga for mental health has received increasing attention from both yogis and scientists alike, with the benefits of yoga for mental health traversing several areas ranging from mood and anxiety disorders to stress reduction.
How Yoga Works?
Stress is a major epidemic in our society that can create lots of problems in our mind and body, and impairs our ability to come from a less reactive place during times of increased stress. Yoga functions like a self-soothing technique in that it alters the stress response system, helping to “tame” and quiet down the nervous system. In this way, the mental benefits of yoga are witnessed with the reduction of stress by way of decreased cortisol (stress hormone) levels in our body. Yoga encourages you to relax, slow your breath, and focus on the present, shifting the balance from the sympathetic nervous system (or the fight-or-flight response) to the parasympathetic nervous system.
The impact of yoga on mental health is diverse and expanding. Yoga is a unique mind-body practice with its emphasis on moving through asanas in a mindful and purposeful way. Further, the use of breath as a focal point to guide you and to keep you grounded in your body, especially when the mind wants to distract you with seductive thoughts or emotions, provides a dynamic platform for working with emotional health issues. So, whether you are interested in a rigorous power vinyasa class or a calming and gentle restorative class, you will likely enter that state of bliss, and experience emotional health benefits along the way.
Above and beyond the calm and relaxation, you also may have experienced a deeper connection between your mind and body, as well as more intimacy with your internal experiences, e.g., thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. And, perhaps you have noticed that with this deeper connection and intimacy comes less judgment and evaluation of those internal experiences.
Move more, eat less—that’s the adage of many a dieter. Yoga can help on both fronts. A regular practice gets you moving and burns calories, and the spiritual and emotional dimensions of your practice may encourage you to address any eating and weight problems on a deeper level. An important component of yoga is focusing on the present. Studies have found that regular yoga practice improves coordination, reaction time, memory, and even IQ scores. People who practice Transcendental Meditation demonstrate the ability to solve problems and acquire and recall information better—probably because they’re less distracted by their thoughts, which can play over and over like an endless tape loop.