Yoga and Your Mental Health – 3 Ways Yoga Benefits your Mental Health

Yoga and Your Mental Health –

One of the most beautiful things about your yoga practice is that it is as unique as you are.  Anatomy, trauma history, family culture, cognitions, stressors, etc.  No one has exactly the same needs, physical, spiritually, or psychologically.  When we try to apply therapeutic interventions, such as yoga practice, as if it can be prescribed in a cookie-cutter manner, the same for everyone, we may experience challenges, or even injury.

The next time you practice yoga (on or off your mat) honor your uniqueness.  Remember that you are your own subject matter expert.  No one, not even your yoga instructor, knows you better than you.  You are the only person who knows your history, feels the tension in your shoulders from an argument with your husband, feels pain in your knee when you bend too deeply, or feels vulnerable in a posture that leaves your heart exposed.  Honor your body’s need to stay in a shoulder opener for a few extra breaths or to spend most of the class in child’s pose.  Meet your body – and you mind – wherever you are at in this moment.  Practice non-judgement by working to ignore what everyone else in class is doing and pay attention to your needs.

Below are 3 amazing benefits to our mental health that we can gain from practicing yoga.

  1. Physiological

Practicing yoga with deep, mindful breathe (or Pranayama) can move us from the sympathetic nervous system (think instinctual reactions) to the parasympathetic nervous system (responding with logic).  To imagine how this might feel physically, think about what happens in your body when you are watching a scary movie – you may start clenching your fists or tensing your jaw, your breathe becomes more shallow and fast, and you feel your heart begin to race.  These physical reactions are preparing our body to either “fight” of take “flight”.  We can move away from this mindset by beginning to focus on evening and lengthening our breath and relaxing our muscles, thereby calming our nervous system.

  1. Cultivating Mindfulness

Yoga can be an excellent practice in mindfulness.  As you move from posture to posture, you experience a variety of sensations with your senses.  You can hear your deep, even breathing, smell the comforting smell of your yoga mat, feel the sensations in your muscles as you actively hold each posture, and see whatever your gaze falls upon.  Paying attention to all of these elements keeps us anchored in the present, instead of ruminating about the past or future.

  1. Practicing Acceptance

Contentment is being present and accepting where you are now, even if that’s not where you want to be.  When we are working towards contentment, we are striving to release the past and not worry about the future.  We can use a physical posture to help illustrate this.  Imagine, for example, that you are in a class where the instructor and every other classmate slide into the hanumanasana (the splits) with ease.  You, on the other hand, are tenuously perched upon your fingertips, dripping sweat, and holding your breath.  You can’t wait to get out of this posture, you are pushing yourself to a point where you are no longer breathing comfortably because your pride and desire to attain the full posture are driving your actions.  Maybe you are even beating yourself up because you used to be able to do the splits.  Practicing acceptance in this moment may involve using blocks to help you hold the pose comfortably and continue to breathe deeply and then to focus on acknowledging any negative or unconstructive thoughts that float into your mind and bringing yourself back to how you are honoring your body’s needs while also working on improving flexibility safely.


About the Author:  Danielle is a provisionally licensed mental health practitioner in Omaha, Nebraska. She is a sole proprietor at New Leaf Therapy Associates, LLC, and enjoys working with individuals and families.  Danielle utilizes trauma-informed techniques and mindfulness with her clients, helping them to feel empowered and more in control of their lives.
Phone: (402)980-6342

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