Yoga for Mental Health

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Yoga has a number of different benefits and chief among these is the increase in mental health. By being a regular practitioner of yoga you can improve your mental health in ways that you never thought possible. It is well known as a spiritual based practice that was originally intended to improve this aspect of health. Through concentrating on doing the small things correctly, big benefits can be gained.

In recent times yoga has been perceived as a way of improving mental health. Ever since the 1970’s clinical trials have been undertaken proving the benefits of yoga in this area. When you stretch your muscles and align your posture you will significantly improve your mental well being as well. Other clinically proven benefits include rebalancing the nervous system and reducing chronic stress. But these benefits have been known for thousands of years. Patanjali, who is regarded as one of the founding fathers of yoga said that yoga is the ‘’control of the fluctuations of the mind’’. Therefore, by definition, any variations from the norm are defined as a symptom signifying mental illness.

One relatively easy technique which can be easily implemented is alternate nostril breathing. By breathing in each nostril in turn it can have a remarkable calming on the mind. This is probably one of the simplest techniques to master and of course you don’t need to sign up for yoga class for it.

As for concentration, it can focus attention on your mental health because care and attention to detail are required to practice yoga properly. This can build up a feeling of self-worth and accomplishment which can in turn improve the morale of the practitioner. Once you start to see the results you’ll want to continue with yoga as it will build up your sense of confidence and improve your mental outlook as well.

The 3 main types of mental disorders that can be helped with yoga are anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and trauma. Each of these can be helped with various poses that work to assimilate the mind with the body and induce a feeling of well-being through altering the body and mind itself.

Depression is a debilitating mental illness that makes the body sluggish as a symptom of the illness itself. It has been shown through brain scans that increased amounts of neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which helps in combating depression. It’s been shown that yoga helps you deal with stress better, improve your mood, alter your brain, and the chemicals that influence the brain and help you deal with insomnia and anxiety as well. The simple act of exercising through depression concentrates the mind, increases blood flow, and alleviates tension as well which are necessary for the recovery from depression.

Yoga can also help with the digestive system and sleep because the parasympathetic nervous system can be stimulated back into operation. Because the heart’s circadian rhythm is regulated, sleeping disorders associated with depression and anxiety might also be alleviated.

 Some of the yoga styles that can help with this are Iyengar which is suitable for those starting in yoga. It can help to eliminate tension using such devices as pillows and chairs. Kripalu has a special emphasis on flowing movement, concentrated breathing, and intense meditation. Viniyoga is suitable for the older practitioner and its gentle moves are for healing and wellbeing. 

Another aspect of mental health that can see great benefits is PTSD. By helping the mind to keep quiet it can overcome PTSD by alleviating the intense and prolonged anxiety that is an inherent part of this condition. By concentrating on asana (movements) and deep breathing practitioners have been able to calm their inner selves and shelve the trauma that comes with PTSD.  

Psychiatric disorders can also be improved by yoga. By assuming postures, breathing exercises, and concentrating on relaxation, patients with schizophrenia for example have been able to enhance their quality of life because the symptoms associated with the disorder have decreased after a prolonged period of yoga activity. Another psychiatric disorder that can be improved is anorexia nervosa which can be helped by calming the practitioner of stress and anxiety and help focus their efforts to improve themselves in a much more positive fashion. Bulimia can also be improved by regularly practicing appropriate yoga poses.

One aspect which you might not find in any of the textbooks is the social aspect of yoga. By associating with individuals who are like-minded you can gain friendships, support, and focus as you continue down the path of yoga. It is important to be around like-minded people when faced with a tough challenge and such empathy can have results that cannot be measured by charts or graphs alone.

Some of the poses that are beneficial for anxiety are the Big Toe Pose, Bound Angle Pose, Camel Pose, Cow Pose, and the Bridge Pose. By engaging in deep breathing with these exercises we can relax the mind and the body with the following process. It does this by slowing down our natural tendency towards anxiety and it calms our nervous system.

It should be noted that yoga is not the total absolute solution for all your mental health issues. While it is an incredible tool, professional guidance should be sought out in order to deal with problems that might be too complex for yoga to help with. As always, you should conduct your own research before seeking a positive solution to your problems. Yoga is perhaps most suitable for those who are anxious, depressed, frantic, or is obsessed about something. 

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The main benefit is the ability to calm the mind and to be able to concentrate on the task at hand which is the key to tackling any mental illness that you might, unfortunately, counter in life. Such challenges can be overcome by developing a routine that focuses the mind on the moment and it helps break the challenges into tiny steps. This is the key benefit and it is not to be underestimated in the battle to bring about a mentally healthy yoga practitioner.

Nick Hanlon

I'm an Aussie interested in topical issues.

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