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How Yoga Improves Mental Health

A therapy session, with client and therapist contemplating together

Originating from the ancient Sanskrit word 'yuji', which translates to yoke or union, yoga is a practise that began in ancient Northern India. It combines physical postures, meditation, and breathing control to promote overall well-being, although the various forms of yoga focus more on the physical or spiritual, depending on their particular orientation.

While it is often associated with physical fitness, yoga goes beyond just exercise. It can also have very profound effects on a person’s mental state. According to a survey conducted on regular yoga practitioners, 47% reported positive changes in motivations when it comes to practising yoga. They had initially started the practise for general wellness and physical fitness reasons and later felt motivated to continue practising yoga for stress management and spirituality benefits.

All of the above considered, yoga is an ideal activity for improving mental health, and below are only some of the reasons why.

Mood regulation

One of the most significant mental health benefits of yoga is mood regulation. Many studies have shown a strong correlation between yoga practise and an increase in positive emotions, such as happiness and contentment. This is because engaging in yoga releases endorphins, which are known as “feel-good” hormones.

These endorphins are known to induce feelings of pleasure and reduce symptoms of depression. In addition, yoga promotes self-compassion and self-acceptance, which fosters a

positive attitude towards oneself and others. As a result, individuals who

practise yoga regularly have improved moods and a greater ability to handle life’s challenges with resilience.

Stress reduction

Another thing that yoga has a profound impact on is stress reduction. In our extremely fast-paced and demanding modern world, stress has definitely become a prevalent issue affecting millions of individuals. Yoga offers a much-needed refuge from stress, as it provides a space for relaxation and restoration.

Through deep breathing exercises and mindful movement, yoga helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, triggering the body’s relaxation response and reducing the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Practising yoga regularly has been shown to lower cortisol levels, leading to decreased anxiety and improved overall mental well-being.

Mental stillness

Through regular yoga practise, individuals can learn to quiet their minds and achieve a state of mental stillness. Mental stillness is one of yoga's spiritual benefits which is particularly important in today’s society where people are constantly bombarded with stimuli from various sources such as work or social media. Our minds are often cluttered with a multitude of thoughts, worries, and anxieties, which can lead to stress, restlessness, and an overall sense of unease.

The physical postures and movements involved in yoga require focus and concentration, which anchors the mind to the present moment. This focused attention on the body and breathing then helps redirect the mind away from past worries and future concerns. Additionally, yoga involves meditation and mindfulness, which cultivates a sense of healthy detachment and allows individuals to experience a state of inner calm and stillness.

Focus enhancement

Crucial to maintaining good mental health, yoga also enhances focus and concentration. The combination of physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation cultivates mindfulness—the practise of being fully present in the moment.

By directing one’s attention to their body and breathing, yoga trains the mind to stay anchored in the present, reducing distractions and improving concentration abilities Moreover, mindfulness is closely linked to self-awareness. This allows individuals to gain deeper insights into their thoughts, emotions, and behaviour patterns. This self- awareness empowers people to make more conscious choices and better manage their mental well-being.

Sleep improvement

Being a key aspect of mental health, yoga has also been found to improve sleep quality. Regular practise of yoga can help individuals suffering from sleep disorders such as insomnia to relax the body and quiet the mind. The postures and techniques involved in yoga help with releasing tension in the body and prepare it for a more restful and rejuvenating night’s sleep. These postures also alleviate physical comfort, reduce muscle tension, and release any built-up toxins, enabling the body to sleep more deeply.

Yoga also helps relax the chest area and stretch the spine, which improves posture and lung capacity. This can positively affect breathing patterns during sleep and reduce snoring or breathing-related sleep problems.

So, if you are looking to improve mental health and feel more connected, yoga is a worthy companion to any mental health care plan you may be engaged with, or considering.

Cris Curtis / Guest Author

Credit: Unsplash


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