Before I tried yoga I thought you had to be super bendy and skinny to even think about walking through the door. For many years various friends had told me I should try it but, being me, I stubbornly refused.
Now I can see that they were trying to guide me to a place that could help my mental health.
Some people practise yoga for physical fitness, and there is certainly that element to it, but we can actually resolve emotional issues through our practice too.
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Fear, anguish, loneliness, self-confidence, self-esteem, relationships, setting healthy boundaries, self-compassion – can all be helped. And learning how emotions live in our bodies rather than rule us is important work to apply to daily life too.
Yoga isn’t just about the poses; it’s the mental and emotional benefit of the deeper practice that many love. After the physical release of stiffness will come an emotional release.
I tried a variety of different classes, with a range of different teachers, before really finding what worked for me. Some classes are more strenuous and challenging, which will give your mind plenty to focus on rather than worrying about your to-do list. But there are plenty of less strenuous, more relaxing practices too.
Research from Harvard Health found that “yoga appears to modulate stress response systems. This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal – for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. There is also evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s ability to respond to stress more flexibly.”
It also found “for many patients dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress, yoga may be very appealing to better manage symptoms”.
Interestingly, studies have also found that yoga can improve symptoms of schizophrenia when practised alongside medication therapy. And a UCLA study showed how effective it could be for caregivers; those taking care of loved ones with dementia for instance.
Learning breathing techniques and beginning to understand how you can change your mental state through slowing down your breathing is a game changer. Anyone who struggles with stress or anxiety will appreciate the benefit of beginning to change from a state of fight-or-flight to rest-and-digest.
Stepping away from the armour you place around yourself to face the world is important too. You start to see that you are worthy as a person and build the crucially important sense of self.
Feeling less stressed and anxious by the end of a class is a feeling that you learn to carry with you.
Becoming less reactive can lead to fewer regrets and that can improve mental health too.
Beginning to own hurt rather than lashing out and blaming others paves the way to living more mindfully.