It’s easy, especially in today’s world, to feel that our mental health is out of balance. From depression to anxiety and from lethargy to loneliness, our mental health is a complex web that involves psychological, environmental and physical factors. The ancient spiritual practice of yoga can help restore a sense of balance to a mind that feels a bit out of sorts.
Here is what you need to know about yoga and mental health:
Yoga has long been practiced for its ability to instill a sense of calm and non-reactivity in the mind of the practitioner. But it hasn’t been until recently that researchers have been able to quantify just how and why yoga can contribute to a sound mental state.
In 2008, researchers at the University of Utah found that those who practiced yoga had a higher pain tolerance and showed less reactivity to pain than those who did not practice yoga. And another study showed that women with breast cancer experienced greater quality of life when they practiced yoga during their treatment.
One theory is that yoga’s physical postures in combination with the breath work help to release deep-seated emotions while also allowing the practitioner to stay very focused on the moment, without letting their thoughts or emotions become too carried away in negative thinking. Moreover, those who practice yoga, also take other lifestyle steps to maintain or improve their sense of wellness, like eating a healthy diet, having strong and meaningful social connections and engaging in regular physical activity.
There are numerous yoga postures that can help boost your mood. In fact, just simply taking a yoga class can leave the person feeling brighter, lighter and uplifted.
Here are a few yoga postures for mental health:
Supported Shoulder Stand (Salamba Sarvangasana): This inverted postures allows you to see things from a different perspective, namely upside down. And because of that, your view is altered and oxygen pours into areas of your body that may feel sluggish, leaving you feeling more awake. If you are a beginner, perform this posture under the direction of a qualified instructor. It may also be necessary to use a few blankets for extra support under the shoulders and upper back.
Supported Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana): This variation of a back bend helps calm a frenzied mind, reduce anxiety and energize the body. But if you have a neck injury, it is best to avoid this posture or perform it under the supervision of an experienced instructor.
Corpse Pose (Savasana): This relaxing, yet rejuvenating, yoga posture is typically the last pose performed in class. Simply by laying down, closing the eyes and allowing the mind to be still can have profound effects on helping stabilize an imbalanced mood or release unprocessed emotions and thoughts.
If a person has a serious mental illness, yoga can actually do more harm than good, if not practiced under professional supervision. Therefore, it is wise for anyone with a mental disorder to speak with their mental health professional before beginning a yoga program.