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From Pose to Poise: Yoga for Mental Health

Yoga, the combination of breathing exercises, meditation, and physical postures, has often come up in conversation regarding physical health. It helps cure and prevent certain ailments, such as cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and diabetes. The lesser-k

Post by on Thursday, June 24, 2021

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Diksha Gupta
Counselling Psychologist,
Certified CBT NLP Practitioner

Yoga, the combination of breathing exercises, meditation, and physical postures, has often come up in conversation regarding physical health. It helps cure and prevent certain ailments, such as cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and diabetes. The lesser-known and emerging narrative is of its importance in improving mental health. It stimulates our body and relaxes the mind, thus making us more aware of our internal self.

In today’s world, the pandemic has aggravated concerns of mental well-being such as anticipatory stress and anxiety, loneliness, and depression. These issues can further increase the chances of developing conditions related to sleep, mood, and a general decline in lifestyle quality. Yoga can help with mental health issues and emotion regulation by keeping us calm and centered.

I. Reduce Anxiety and Relieve Depression

When we are anxious, we tend to tense our muscles and take shorter breaths. Yoga counters these physiological responses and can be effective in decreasing anxiety symptoms, such as performance anxiety. It also calms the autonomic nervous system– where the body stores trauma– and has been found helpful in reducing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms, characterized by severe anxiety following a traumatic event.

Yoga can also act as a supplement to other forms of therapy. Given its inexpensive nature and minimal risk of side effects compared to many medicines, yoga is also beneficial for those with major depressive disorder.

 

II.Improve Mood and Reduce Stress

Apart from making one more physically agile, yoga can affect mood by elevating levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical that is associated with better mood and decreased anxiety. In a 10-week yoga class study, the participants reported increased positive affect and reduced psychological stress. In fact, yoga can also decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone.

 

III.Healthier Sleep

A byproduct of increased stress, yoga is also advantageous for reduced sleep. It can improve multiple domains of sleep quality and even reduce insomnia severity. While its benefits are applicable for all age groups, they are particularly advantageous for older adults. A study of yoga participants over the age of 60 reported an increase in the quality and quantity of their sleep. They also showed improved sleep efficiency, which measures the percentage of time spent in bed sleeping.

 

IV.Enhance Quality of Life

While the above points seem targeted towards those in a negative headspace or with a disrupted schedule, practising yoga can improve the overall quality of life. Yoga makes one more rooted in their sense of self, thus improving confidence and facilitating a healthy, balanced ego. It can also increase one's ability to control anger and decrease verbal aggression in adults.

 

V.Boost Cognitive Function

In the age of increased technological dependency and reduced “mental work”, everyone is looking for ways to improve their cognitive skills. Doing yoga allows one’s brain cells to develop new connections and consequently change brain struc¬ture and function. This can enhance learning, strengthen memory, increase attention, and improve language functions.

Its meditation component also reduces activity in the limbic system—the part of the brain dedicated to emotions. With diminished emotional reac¬tivity, one has a more tempered response when faced with adverse and stressful situations.


While these advantages are attractive in theory, one must translate and implement these in their daily routines. It’s recommended that one adopts such preventive measures before finding the need to seek professional or medical help. Apart from the aforementioned benefits, yoga also increases one’s endurance, builds confidence, and calms their mind. The unique mind-body practice of yoga thus offers a holistic approach to physical and mental health.


 





Top Tips For Yoga Beginners

Find A Good Yoga Teacher

It is much easier and more enjoyable, to learn yoga, with all its detailed and subtle physical and mental aspects, from an experienced, qualified, teacher. You can find plenty of free videos on YouTube, or apps which will guide you through the beginner poses.


Respect Your Body’s Inner Wisdom And Limitations

Don’t push yourself to do anything that feels dangerous or wrong for you. This is ‘Ahimsa’, the practice of non-harm, which is essential to skilful and beneficial practice of yoga. Be aware of contraindications relevant to your specific circumstances: for example some poses are not to be practiced during early pregnancy, with certain injuries, or during menstruation, whereas other poses may be very helpful.


Breathe

Yoga is all about finding a healthier, deeper harmony between our body and mind, and our breathing is central to this. Breathe into your whole body in the poses, and relax. There is a lot to learn about healthy breathing in yoga.


Don’t Compare Yourself With Others

Look inwards to your own progress; there will always be people who are more experienced than you. Yoga may be fashionable, but it is not a spectator sport or a competition. Appreciate the subtle progress of your own practice, the best part of it is on the inside, in the healing awareness and unity of your own body, mind and spirit.


Have A Sense Of Humour

Yoga is a quiet, focused activity, but we need not to take ourselves too seriously. We may feel ungainly and stiff as a board as we try to navigate ourselves into new poses. Humility, an inner smile and a bit of gentleness can save us from pushing ourselves to the point of strain and injury.


Eating And Drinking And Yoga

It is advisable not to eat for one or two hours before yoga practice, and to drink only small amounts of water beforehand and do not drink during practice. Avoid alcohol, sugar or caffeine before yoga.


Wear Loose Comfortable Clothing (That Stays On)

You will stretch your body in all directions and so you don’t want to wear anything that will dig in or restrict your movement. At some point you are likely to bend your body right over and also turn upside down, so it saves wriggling about or exposing more that you wish to if you wear stretch fit gear.


Make Practice Frequent

Little and often is more effective than occasional long sessions of yoga. Even 15 minutes a day of a few well-chosen poses can have a very positive effect on your physical, emotional and mental well-being. A regular discipline will reap more benefits, as that way the body begins to feel comfortable and familiar with the process and gradually becomes more flexible and subtly aware of the sensations, rather than ‘starting from cold’ again once in a while.


Modify Postures For Your Body

The perfect pose we may see in a book or see a teacher demonstrate may be a long way from what our own body can currently achieve. A good yoga teacher will show you how to ease your own body carefully towards the ideal posture, perhaps with use of yoga props like extra blocks, bolsters, a belt etc., bringing attention to the principle of the inner stretch or direction of energy that the pose is aiming to evoke in us.


Relax! End Your Yoga Practice With Shavasana

Finish your practice with Shavasana, ‘Corpse pose’, lying flat on the floor, resting and consciously relaxing your body for five to 15 minutes. Don’t rush out of it; get up very gently, rolling onto your right side and coming up to a sitting position in your own time.


If you are a yoga beginner you don’t really have to buy a great deal at all to do yoga, but these yoga ‘props’ can be very useful. A yoga mat especially is pretty essential to avoid slipping on floors.


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