Mental health matters. Often we make time for our physical health over our mental health, but why not combine the two?
Yoga is not just a physical practice, but a mental and spiritual one. It is a holistic approach to health and well-being with a number of mental health benefits. Let’s explore a few.
We’d all like to stress less. The question is how? Yoga poses, or asanas, help to relax the body and mind, reducing the physical symptoms of stress like muscle tension and headaches. The combination of asanas, breathing techniques known as pranayama, and meditation help to promote a sense of calm.
Yoga teaches us to breathe deeply and slowly. When we are stressed, our breath becomes shallow and rapid, which can exacerbate feelings of anxiety. By using breath work, we can bring the mind into the present moment.
Certain poses like Cobra or Bow pose aid in stimulating the internal organs, while others like Downward Facing Dog stimulate blood flow throughout the entire body, leaving you feeling more relaxed.
Improved Sleep Quality
Sleep is not only crucial for our physical health and performance, but for our mental health too. If you suffer from insomnia or sleep disturbances, regular yoga practice can help.
According to the Sleep Foundation, over 55% of yoga practitioners report improved sleep. Yoga practitioners theorize this is due to the stretching and relaxing of muscles, as the physical and mental exertion involved in these exercises can result in deeper sleep and higher sleep efficiency.
By calming the mind and activating the parasympathetic nervous system through various poses such as corpse pose or child’s pose, yoga can help to create a sense of balance in the body, leading to improved restfulness.
While high-activity forms of yoga will elevate the heart rate, restorative types of yoga are best just before bed. Hatha yoga is great for winding down as it involves focusing on slow breath work, paired with gentle moves. The deep breathing exercises help to slow down the heart rate and reduce stress levels, making it easier to relax and fall asleep.
Increased Focus and Concentration
Yoga offers a range of cognitive benefits. Poses like Triangle or Tree pose require complete focus in order to maintain balance, training the brain to stay present in moments our mind may be tempted to wander.
According to Harvard Health, studies using brain imaging technology have shown those practicing yoga to have a thicker cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for processing information, and hippocampus, the part involved in learning and memory.
Most forms of exercise are known to boost mood through the increased release of endorphins, known as the ‘feel good’ chemicals. However, yoga can affect mood by increasing levels of GABA, associated with decreased anxiety.
This can be powerful when combined with meditation, which reduces activity in the part of the brain responsible for emotion. As emotional reactivity decreases, responses to stressful situations are more mild.
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