If you’re looking to improve your mental health and overall sense of wellbeing, a focus on deep breathing and gentle stretching through the practice of yoga may help.
Yoga is considered one of the oldest forms of exercise and although there are many different styles, from gentle to rigorous, yoga practice generally involves stretching, breathing and a period of deep relaxation or mediation.
A growing number of studies from the 1970s through to today, suggest that yoga can have a positive outcome for people managing symptoms of depression, anxiety or stress, among other benefits.
In fact, Harvard Medical School believes there is growing evidence that yoga practice is a relatively low risk, high-benefit approach to improving overall health.
Marked this month, the UN International Day of Yoga on June 21 aims to raise awareness of the many benefits, including physical and psychological, of practicing yoga.
Here’s a brief guide to getting started with yoga for mental health and wellbeing.
Yoga, Metal Health and Wellbeing
Yoga is a form of physical exercise that involves different body poses, breathing techniques and meditation.
Regular practice of yoga may help to:
- Relieve stress
- Lower anxiety levels
- Decrease depression
- Improve sleep quality
- Enhance quality of life
Yoga is thought to achieve these benefits in several ways:
- As an exercise, it naturally produces serotonin, sometimes called the happy chemical because it contributes to feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Serotonin in the brain is a natural mood stabiliser and has been associated with helping regulate anxiety and stress.
- Regular yoga practice teaches deep focus and mindful breathing, two important elements in helping to relieve depression. Participants can better focus on the present, clear their mind and strengthen the mind-body connection.
- Mental endurance and physical stamina are tested through holding postures through extended breaths. This increases endurance, strength and flexibility.
- It helps modulate the stress response, reducing heart rate, lowering blood pressure and easing respiration. This may also help in managing pain tolerance.
Getting the Most from Yoga
If you’re considering trying yoga to improve your mental health and wellbeing, keep in mind that it should be seen as a complement to your existing therapies, such as medication and psychotherapy.
You will find that yoga is available in many styles and adaptable for all skill levels. When starting out, explore several styles to find the one which suits you best.
Types of Yoga
Incorporates gentler and slower paced movements, best suited for beginners. Aims to introduce beginners to the main relaxation techniques and asanas (postures or positions) used in yoga practice.
Links breathing and movement together, pacing starts slow and gradually gets faster. Vinyasa aims to increase strength and helps to build lean muscle mass throughout the body.
Takes place in a hot room where you practice a set series of moves to help blood flow. Comprises evenly paced, low impact moves to stretch muscles and improve circulation.
Moves slowly through five or six poses for an hour to help you relax. This style is about slowing down and opening your body through passive stretching. Restorative classes are very mellow and a good way to de-stress.
Uses props, such as blocks, chairs and straps, to help you find proper body alignment. Moves focus on precision, timing and use of props to build strength and stability.
Focuses on quick, sequenced poses and is more physically demanding. This is a highly energetic, very vigorous form designed to make you sweat.
Here’s a few poses to help ease stress:
Article by Psychological Health Care