The practice of yoga has become one of the most beneficial holistic mental health treatments. Yoga is used in rehab centers, psychiatric institutions, and by wellness practitioners around the world. Studies have found that yoga has quantifiable benefits on mental health.
Yoga’s effect on physical health is easy to explain. Stretching your body using yoga techniques improves flexibility and reduces the risk of injury. But why is yoga so good for your mental health?
The lack of an obvious connection leads many skeptics to dismiss yoga as a passing wellness trend that provides a vague sense of relaxation and stillness.
However, the reasons yoga improves mental health are actually quite straightforward.
In some ways, yoga is similar to any other workout routine. It challenges you to push your body, strengthen your muscles and heart, and work up a sweat. Someone leaving an advanced yoga class could easily be mistaken for someone leaving a spinning class.
However, yoga differs in the deliberateness and intentionality with which you use your body. It is not about rapid movements or pushing yourself to repeat a bicep curl as many times as possible. Rather, you gradually transition into different poses and hold them for a period of time.
These poses do not only stretch and strengthen your body. To achieve proper form, you have to pay careful attention to what your body is doing. You need to keep in mind where each limb is placed, the direction you are facing, the curvature of your spine, and much more. In other words, practicing yoga gives you an increased sense of body awareness.
What does the body have to do with it?
If you are still confused about how yoga helps mental health, I don’t blame you. Body awareness intuitively sounds like more of a physical benefit than a mental one.
The thing is, all emotions are experienced in the body. Think about the butterflies in the stomach feeling of anxiety, or the way your body tenses up when you are apprehensive. Think about how you cry when you are sad.
These are the more obvious manifestations of emotions. However, every single emotion you have is felt in the body in a very specific way that you may not be consciously aware of. By improving your body awareness, you open yourself up to feeling your emotions more authentically and more fully.
Many mental health problems are exacerbated by our thoughts. We have strong associations with certain feelings. Anxiety leads to thoughts of failure and inadequacy. Sadness leads to thoughts of hopelessness and pain. Shame leads to thoughts of becoming smaller and hiding away.
When we get caught up in those thoughts, they become self-fulfilling prophecies. We avoid doing certain things to get rid of the anxiety, and act recklessly to get rid of sadness and other emotions.
By being aware of where the emotions are in your body, you can disconnect them from the thoughts. You can see them with less judgment and fear, and experience them without the need to immediately get rid of them.
This is why yoga is so beneficial to mental health. By connecting you with your body, it connects you more fully with your emotions. You become better able to track your feelings. You stop shying away from them and no longer act reactively.