Yoga has its roots in India and was born many thousand years ago. It is a holistic combination of spiritual and physical practices and was formed by a great scholar Patanjali. The word Yoga means union or joining. It is a holistic approach where one discovers self through the unity of body and mind. This traditional practice which was once mainly practiced in India has gained popularity in the Western world. If Yoga for mental health as well as physical health is practiced every day the benefits can be experienced over a period of time. It not only helps to increase flexibility, but also reduces stress, boosts concentration, and also promotes a sense of peace in the mind.
Mental Health Benefits of Yoga
The physical health benefits of yoga are just the tip of the iceberg as there are some amazing benefits of it on the brain. Yoga like other forms of exercise increases blood and oxygen supply to the brain, makes you feel good, and reduces stress. Some of the other mental benefits of yoga are: Stimulates Rest and digest mode: The human body is in the fight and flight mode and the sympathetic nervous system is always activated. Yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system and moves the body from sympathetic to parasympathetic which is the rest and digest mode. When that happens the body is in a balanced and relaxed state. You start breathing better, decrease blood pressure, and also improves digestion. Simply put, yoga helps to calm the nervous system and hence the mind. Builds Self-confidence: Yoga helps in a better relationship with oneself by improving self-trust. Due to the regular practice of yoga, you are not only physically healthy, but your mind is also healthy. You make conscious decisions about eating right, you are more confident of yourself, and develop a healthy ego. As there is a more balanced state of mind, you will have better willpower and courage to do things the right way as your mind is in your control. Increases Happiness: A yoga session helps the brain to release certain chemicals called gamma-aminobutyric acid. It also helps to increase the hormone levels of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin which makes you feel more energetic and less anxious. Cortisol which is a stress hormone decreases, thereby increasing the happiness quotient after a session of yoga. Boosts Relationships: When you are happy, less anxious, and have a balanced frame of mind you are at peace with yourself and with people around you. You will be less reactive, more compassionate, and also able to provide unconditional love to the people around you. That in turn improves your relationship with others including your partner.Helps Emotional Control: There are many psychological benefits of yoga and among them, emotional control and relaxation are the main advantages. Therapeutic interventions like yoga can help people who are suffering from emotional issues. Since yoga activates the parasympathetic nerves instead of flight-fight mode the rest and digest mode is in motion. That helps in better control of emotions.Reduces Pain: Yoga helps in faster recovery from an injury apart from keeping the body strong and flexible. A major aspect of yoga is following mindfulness and meditation. When a person meditates, the parietal lobe is affected. This is the place where the pain is managed along with the movement of the limb. By activating that part of the brain it helps to reduce pain sensitivity. Improves Sleep Quality: Poor sleep is not only associated with physical health issues like obesity, high blood pressure, etc. It impacts mental health leading to anxiety and depression. By including it as a part of your exercise routine you can promote better sleep quality. Those who practice this regularly fall asleep faster, sleep longer, have lesser sleep disturbances, and wake up more refreshed. Yoga helps increase the melatonin levels in the body which regulates sleep thereby improving mental health.
Yoga for Mental Disorders
Yoga and depression studies show that stress reduction techniques in yoga and meditation are possible treatment options for many mental health issues like anxiety and depression. So yoga and mental health go hand in hand. Here are some benefits of yoga:
- Anxiety and depression: Yoga lays great emphasis on breath and purposeful movements. Mental yoga helps in creating awareness of the present and helps to refocus on self. When people become self-conscious with the help of yoga they are more aware of the negativity and mood swings they are suffering. Yoga Asanas help to clear the mental chatter and also the physical sensations associated with anxiety, like tightness in the chest, sweaty palms, etc. The more awareness you build the more they can accept the discomfort of depression and deal with it in a healthy way.
- Dealing with trauma: Depression and anxiety can also result due to traumatic experiences. Over time it leads to fear that occupies the mind and body. Yoga which is a mind-body practice can act as a gateway and access the survival part of the brain which helps individuals deal with trauma.
- Reduces stress: Stress is a major factor that can lead to anxiety and depression. That makes the brain and body hypervigilant invoking the flight or fight mode. By doing yoga, the mind deactivates that stimulus and quiets the nervous system. When the stress response is altered, both the mind and body get benefited and people achieve a balanced state of mind that helps to heal.
Popular Yoga Forms for Mental Health
- Hatha yoga: The word Hatha means forceful and is designed to sync the mind, body, and soul. It is also considered a yoga form that prepares you for meditation. Hatha yoga has many physical yoga postures and is a superset of other types of yoga namely the Ashtanga, Iyengar, Vinyasa, and power yoga.
- Acro Yoga: It is one of the latest forms of yoga that combines acrobatics with yoga. It uses the power of acrobatics with the wisdom of yoga as a healing art. It is done with a partner and hence trust becomes a major part of this exercise. The other person has to live up to the trust of the other and helps to become the best version of oneself. It is yoga that can help in self-growth and confidence.
- Ashtanga yoga: It is considered as yoga for weight loss. But it has many mental health benefits too. It is a practice that is a combination of breath and movements and tones the body through sequential coordinated movements. The internal heat that the body generates helps to purify it and also build core strength.
- Jivamukti yoga: It is a combination of meditation, yoga-pranayama, chanting, and music culminating into a flowing asana.
- Meditation: Meditation is a way of slowing things down and clearing the mind. It helps in better sleep, decreasing blood pressure, reducing depression, stress, and anxiety. It also promotes well-being and happiness.
Yoga is known as an exercise that improves flexibility and strengthens the body. It also has many mental health benefits like improving mood, improves the quality of sleep, improves the symptoms of insomnia and other sleep disorders, helps in better control of emotions, boosts focus, and concentration. It is also great therapy for people suffering from stress, depression, and anxiety. Moreover, you can choose styles and poses that suit your level of expertise. No wonder yoga is being adapted as a holistic exercise for mind, body, and soul.
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