In one of my previous posts we looked at how yoga can benefit the body. From stretching to strengthening and balancing to breathing, there’s no denying how wonderful yoga can be for you physically. But now it’s time to take a look at the mind and the advantages of a regular yoga practice on our mental health.
So, keep calm and reading on and don’t forget to share your thoughts and feedback at the end 🙂
Stress relief is one of the go-to buzz phrases for any yoga teacher touting the benefits of their classes but, with any form of exercise being good for relieving tension and anxiety, what's so special about yoga?
Anxiety and stress generally stem from over stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response centre for the mind). This can be triggered by usual daily stresses like having an argument with a friend or getting stuck in traffic on your way to work. Yoga works to specifically stimulate the parasymathetic nervous system (the rest-and-digest response centre) by lowering your heart rate through slow breathing and gentle movements. What's great about this is that when we turn up the part of our brains that tell us to relax we automatically turn down the part telling us to worry and stress out.
A regular yoga and meditation practice helps to cultivate a sense of peace and calm not just on the mat but in your day to day life as well.
According to Patanjali, there are 8 limbs of yoga, one being 'dharana' which literally translates as concentration (on an interesting side note, asanas, or postures, just count as one of these limbs). Dharana is an essential part of any yogi's practice if they are serious about meditation so, it sort of goes without saying, that concentration is built into pretty much any yoga class you go to.
Like anything, practice makes perfect, and the more you work on your dharana in class, the better your concentration becomes outside the studio as well. So the next time your teacher reminds you for the millionth time to focus on your breathing, instead of getting frustrated, know that you're cultivating your power of concentration. Each time your mind wanders, keep coming back to the breath and, before you know it, you'll start noticing the improvements on as well as off the mat.
You don't have to be super flexible, fit or skinny to practice yoga, it's for everybody! When people first come to class they're often nervous about how they will perform on the mat and how they will compare to other students. They soon learn one of the most wonderful things about yoga - it's not competitive!
Yoga is about what your body can do and how it feels doing it. Who cares if your pose looks different to the person next to you? Developing a regular yoga practice helps to create a really positive self image as you start to see your body for the amazing tool that it truly is
Mindfulness is a relatively new word that has taken the media by storm in the last few years, but what exactly is it all about? Being mindful basically means being aware and totally present in the current moment.
Now this may sound like quite a simple concept but putting it into practice can prove a little tricky. Sure, when you're sitting in a park on a beautiful summer's day it can be relatively easy to be present and aware but what about those times when your head is spinning with your break-up last week, pressure from your boss and tomorrow's to-do list? Being mindful isn't such a walk in the park then.
In yoga we are reminded to be acutely aware in every moment of how our body is feeling, of the quality of our breath, of any large or subtle sensations we may be experiencing. In effect, we are practicing being mindful. Instead of worrying about friends or family or work, when we're on the mat we are on the mat. The only thing that is real and true is the present moment and your experience of it, right now.
We could all probably do with a little more patience in our lives, whether it's with colleagues, family or, most importantly, ourselves.
Patience comes from acceptance. Acceptance that this is how things are right now and that you can't change the situation with sheer will. We see this every time we're in class and have to accept that, today, for whatever reason, this is as far as we can go into this pose. Rather than fighting the need to rest, we have to accept that sometimes we need a break and it's okay to take some time in a child's pose. We learn to be patient with our teachers when they make mistakes or hold you in poses for what seems like a lifetime and not the 'just 2 breaths more' they announced 10 breaths ago (we are notoriously awful at counting!).
Thankfully, this patience filters down from practicing it in the classroom through to every aspect of our lives and helps us to become kinder, happier people.