3 Ways Yoga Benefits Your Mental Health
Many studies have shown that the art of yoga increases body awareness, relieves stress, reduces muscle tension, sharpens concentration and calms the nervous system. But, how beneficial is it really?
1. Yoga teaches you the art of self study and self awareness. Notably, this is both mental and physical and will help you find clarity in every aspect of your life. In Sanskrit, yoga can be translated to ‘union’. One must be willing to find union between thoughts and the source of the thoughts, between oneself and the universe as a whole, between mind and body and between ourselves and those around us.
I would like to teach you about an analogy I recently learnt. Whilst reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, I discovered an inspirational saying by a wise guru, Ketut.
Imagine the visualisation of a human figure, standing up, hands clasped in prayer. This figure has four legs, and no head. The head is replaced with a wild foliage of ferns and flowers, whilst, a small smile sits upon the figures heart.
Ketut goes on to knowingly say:
“To find the balance you want, this is what you must become. You must keep your feet grounded so firmly on the earth that it is like you have four legs, instead of two. That way, you can stay in the world. But you must stop looking at the world through your head. You must look through your heart instead.”
2. Yoga is a natural antidepressant. As stress is often the leading factor for depression, yoga’s effectiveness is based on its proven ability to allow the release of tension and lowering cortisol levels. Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Whenever you experience something your body perceives as a threat, a chemical (ACTH) is released within the brain. Furthermore, this then triggers your adrenal glands to release cortisol and adrenaline.
Cortisol is the hormone involved in the fight or flight and stress response. This ultimately gives you a burst of energy so if you were in danger, you could respond quickly and accordingly. However, in a modern day society, there are not as many reasons we may need this energy. We are not seen as prey (well I would hope not anyway!) and now we are left with the fight or flight responses. This is our bodies natural response to danger, if we were being attacked, followed, abused or anything else, this is a survival technique. Thousands of years ago we would have needed this on a regular basis to survive, but today, we wouldn’t need this response as regularly.
Additionally, Cortisol release also: suppresses your digestive system, suppresses your reproductive system, suppresses your growth processes and changes how your immune system responds.
So if we are not under threat, why do we still have the flight or fight mode regularly? If you are an anxious individual, you will know all to well suddenly feeling your heart beat out of your chest, the panic/overwhelming feeling consuming your entire being and the dry, cotton wool like mouth… This could be over something insignificant, perhaps someone gave you a funny look, you’re worrying about an assignment, you’ve just had an easily resolvable argument but you feel as though it’s the end of the world. Well, give yourself a break. It’s literally in your biology! The important thing now, is that you are able to recognise this and calm the situation.
Therefore, doing everything possible to ease this will result in stronger mental health and yoga, well that is the best place to start.
3. Yoga helps you to manage your mental health. There have been numerous studies to show that yoga demonstrates that mental and physical health are not just closely allied, but are essentially equivalent. For example, just as you would go for a run daily to keep your body fit, you should also be practicing meditation daily to keep your mind fit. As you practice this new state of calm, you begin to ignite a feeling of peace from within. This results in you being at ease with situations and makes you willing to find a resolution in the best possible way.
If you’re willing to put your mind, body and soul first, good luck on you yoga adventures. Check out https://www.yogajournal.com/ for all your yoga needs!