Yoga for Mental Health
In 2022 – post-lockdowns, modern society has a combination of stresses unique to our time. So, can yoga – an ancient, holistic system – have any benefit in modern-day management of mental wellbeing?
Everyone has mental health
Mental Health. We all have it! Just as we as have physical health. During life, we expect that our physical health will experience ups and downs. Our bodies can suffer from illness, tiredness, injury/trauma that may need treatment and time to recover.
Mental health is no different – there will be times where we are in good mental health, but also times we might need treatment, support or rest.
If you are experiencing symptoms of mental health issues, it’s important to remember that you are NOT alone. According to the Mental Health Foundation, around 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem during their lives. In the UK, depression and anxiety affects around 8 out of every 100 people.*
Such conditions have long been shrouded in stigma. But talking about it can bring it out into the open.
Mental Health Awareness week
During May, Mental Health Awareness week May 9th-15th is a good time to start the conversation.
Good mental health might look different for all of us, so it’s important to seek help and advice whenever you need it. As part of supporting or maintaining emotional wellbeing, yoga can often help.
How can yoga help mental health?
Meditation, breathing exercises (pranayama), and postures (asana) are key components of yoga. How they are used, and the intensity of the practice varies between each style of yoga. So, different styles allow people to find the practice that works best for them.
Any practice that focuses on breath can be useful. Deep, calm breathing can activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Moving from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic allows you to move from a ‘fight or flight’ state to calmer ‘rest and digest’.
Asana work allows participants to really listen to their bodies. To notice what muscles are engaging, how their breath feels as they hold the pose…
This allows a person to re-establish their mind/body connection and turn their focus to themselves in a healing and nurturing way.
Asana practice (postures) can release emotional tension, relieve stress-related discomfort and create more ease in the body. Dynamic styles offer a chance to get out of your own head for a while as you focus on moving your body through asana. This usually involves a combination of faster-paced flow and held asana.
Restorative yoga however, uses more long-held asanas, often supine, and techniques such as weighting the body – with a bolster, or similar, to give a sense of grounding, to act with particular benefit to those with anxiety.
Bo Forbes, a Clinical Psychologist, Integrative Yoga Therapist and Author of ‘Yoga for Emotional Balance: Simple Practices to Help Relieve Anxiety and Depression’, is an advocate of restorative yoga to treat and manage people’s mental well-being.
Forbes states, “The subtle practices can create the deepest relaxation and have the greatest impact.”
Yoga teaches self acceptance. We may be internalising stigma and feeling bad about ourselves, but yoga is non-competitive, and non-judgemental. It fosters a healthy, peaceful relationship with your body.
Yoga: From the Sanskrit root word Yuj, meaning to ‘yoke’ or unite.
The original meaning of yoga is ‘union’. A union of body and mind is exactly what yoga can offer.
- Yoga for Emotional Balance: Simple Practices to Help Relieve Anxiety and Depression, Bo Forbes.
- The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van der Balk.