Yoga helps to improve mental health by lowering stress hormones in the body, and increasing endorphins and GABA, both of which are mood boosting chemicals. It also strengthens the part of the brain responsible for attention, awareness, memory, and thought. Yoga helps to ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as improve focus and concentration.
Yoga offers a unique combination of physical movements (yoga poses), breathing exercises (breath work), and meditation (mindfulness) that creates a sense of calm and relaxation for the practitioner. Yoga is also accessible for all levels of clients because no specified level of fitness or prior yoga knowledge is needed, which makes it easy to begin and participate.
Sitting still and clearing the mind, which is often part of yoga classes, can be difficult, especially when someone is going through a hard time, is depressed or anxious, or has any other conditions they might be trying to overcome. Just starting with even five minutes of yoga postures, breath work, or meditation, though, can be enough to get you on your path to feeling better. This is not to discount the importance of proper medication, therapy, or other traditional support. These methods can all be used in conjunction with the proper medical oversight.
Yoga practices can also be used far beyond the studio, class, or video that one might do. The yoga poses can be used to relieve stress or pain in the body. A lot of poses can even be done standing, sitting at a desk, or in the car (not when driving!). The breath work of yoga can be used anytime to decrease anxiety, clear racing thoughts, or help to refocus during a stressful time. Breath work can also be done without anyone else noticing, so it is available to you whenever and wherever you are. Meditation can also be used at anytime to calm the mind, relax the body, and even help you drift into sleep. There are a variety of meditation techniques so don’t think it just means sitting in silence. Sitting quietly is one way to meditate, but there are also guided meditations, chants, visualizations, and more.
If you are feeling well, yoga can help you stay feeling that way. If you are not feeling quite yourself, yoga can create a space within you to begin your healing. Yoga is not the end all, be all for mental health conditions, but it can support the traditional methods, and offer new techniques for those that might be struggling.