Yoga is a practice of poses, meditation and breathing. A lot of us view yoga as a practice to build strength and flexibility and, while it can; the more impactful side of yoga I have personally experienced are the benefits to my mental health.
Yoga is all about the science of the mind and asanas (poses) were not included in this ancient practice at first! It’s amazing that this practice has lasted over 5,000 years.
In this post, I share 5 of the non-physical ways that yoga benefits mental health that I have experienced and would love for you to be open to experience too.
Yoga is the journey of the Self, through the Self, to the SelfThe Bhagavad Gita
#1 Increase compassion
Not just for yourself, but for others, too. During our yoga practice, we are invited to move freely, without judgement or comparison. As you start to reduce the stress and suffering in your mind, listen to your body and learn more about yourself as you practice, you increase your appreciation for yourself and your body. Over time, this compassion that you have cultivated moves off the mat into everyday life.
#2 Increase body awareness
Stepping on your mat and practicing yoga isn’t just going through the motions of poses for the sake it. Moving through these poses, with your breath allows to bring yourself into the present moment.
When starting with a teacher, whether online or in a class, the queues to breathe and move in certain ways allows you to connect with yourself and notice things you wouldn’t normally notice. We spend so much time in autopilot and moving and doing the same things, yoga gives us the chance to move in different ways and notice things within our bodies. You start to notice how it moves, what works and what doesn’t, how it feels, how it is connected.
We start to tune in and learn about our limitations, challenges and even the judgements we place on ourselves.
Moving and tuning into our breath allows us to connect with ourselves, whether you are aware of it at the start or not. We spend more time with ourselves and our bodies, learning about ourselves and eventually moving with more compassion and less judgement.
Both of points one and two allow us to strengthen our relationship with our body, ability to listen to your body more and create a new appreciate for ourselves.
#3 Reduce stress and anxiety
One of the most important parts of yoga is the breath. Each movement is linked with our breath. Breath work is beneficial in and out of a yoga practice for many reasons, including increasing your energy, awareness and presence. One of the biggest things breath work has helped me with, is easing my stress and anxiety. It has become one of my biggest go to practices, not just on a bad day, but as part of my morning routine too!
I learned that the reason it helps ease anxiety is because of the way we are breathing. So many of us go through life, especially through anxious or stressful situations breathing shallow and into our chest, which sends our body into fight or flight mode. This is a natural response by our bodies for when there is a threat. But sometimes we can find ourselves in a constant or prolonged state or fight or flight when there is no physical or immediate threat to us. By learning to adopt different breathing techniques through our yoga practice (or on their own) we can calm our parasympathetic nervous system, which takes us out of fight or flight mode and into the relaxation response.
#4 Taking time for yourself away from screens, social media and material things
How often do you ever stop and do something for yourself, that does not involve being infront of a screen? I’m not saying it’s bad thing, I love a good Netflix binge! However, I find it very hard to pull myself away from things like my TV or social media.
When you adopt a regular yoga practice, whether it is once or four times a week, it takes me away from the materialistic things of the world and into my own world. A chance to indulge in peace, movement and mindfulness.
#5 Stay present
We tend to spend a lot of time in the past or future, or anywhere that is not the present moment, for that matter. This kind of thinking can lead to unhappiness and a lot of anxiety because it brings on stress, worry and a lot of what if’s.
The present moment is what is happening right now, because that’s all we really have. It’s the moment we are spending are time in and have control over. Being in the present can help increase happiness, awareness and focus.
As mentioned earlier in this article, there is huge emphasis on breath in a yoga practice. This is a great way to help bring your awareness to the present moment. Focusing on your body and your breath, allows you to indulge in the present moment, distracting you from your negative thought patterns.
Yoga teaches you to become a witness to your thoughts. This helps you to become more detached from them and stop letting them control you. All these can add up to an improved quality of life.
What non-physical lessons have you learned from your yoga practice? And if you haven’t yet, I hope that this post will bring some awareness to the benefits that you can start to feel yourself. If you are struggling, perhaps add some journalling on to the end of your practise and take a little time to write about each experience.