4 Inspiring Benefits of Yoga for Mental Wellness
Mental wellness is an important consideration for healthy living. Discover 4 inspiring ways that yoga can benefit mental health from improving brain function to creating mindfulness, in this insightful article by Bhavin Thakker, a professional Yoga Teacher on Bidvine.
Yoga for Mental Wellness
When we see many yoga teachers and enthusiasts alike posting pictures of themselves doing advanced postures or sitting in one of the meditative poses, one wonders what’s the connect between yoga and mental wellness?
The Link Between Yoga and Mental Wellness
A recent study at the Boston University School of Medicine found that yoga and particularly weekly yoga can boost low Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid or GABA levels, which are associated with depression and other anxiety disorders. This study suggests that regular yoga can help alleviate symptoms of depression in the long-term by boosting GABA levels. Scientists also found that the levels of the amino acid GABA are much higher in those that carry out yoga than those performing the equivalent of a similarly strenuous exercise.
According to the WHO, depression affects approximately 16 million people in the U.S. every year. The Office for National Statistics in the UK reported 1 in 5 adults are likely to have experienced some form of depression post-pandemic as compared to 1 in 10 adult before COVID-19 times.
While there has been a widespread recognition of the importance of mental well-being from governments, businesses, and health care providers in the recent years, looking after our mental health has never been more imperative than now.
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4 Inspiring Benefits of Yoga For Mental Wellness
Yoga provides many tools and techniques that can help us stay on top of our mental well-being. To begin we can explore the history and traditional roots of yoga in India. Here we can better appreciate the beauty and science of how yoga has guided its practitioners to seek inner wisdom and attain lasting health and happiness.
To quote Patanjali, the founder of modern yoga - “Yogah cittaha vritti nirodha” meaning “Yoga is the cessation of the operations of the mind”. Coming back to the definition of yoga, if yoga is focused on mental wellness, then what was the aim of creating thousands of postures to test endurance, strength, flexibility, and the ability to balance our physical bodies?
This is linked with some of the realisations from the first yogis, who found that the body and mind were not two distinct aspects of our being but rather two poles of the same entity. Our mind and body form a unique psychosomatic alchemy such that our mind influences the body and our body influences the mind. It is a simple yet very powerful principle– stillness of the body leads to stillness of the mind and the vice versa.
Our mind is like a perpetual treadmill of thoughts that keeps running all day and even in our sleep. So, our mental muscles never get to rest properly. When faced with challenging times or a situation, it can easily go into chronic fatigue mode. Left unaddressed and as we navigate adverse life situations from time to time, it is bound to wear on our mental health. Let’s explore how yoga can help.
1. Yoga Improves Brain Function
The latest research indicates that a short bout of yoga kickstarts the brain far more effectively than any other exercise. As little as 20 minutes spent on the mat, can help your brain work better, focus more, sift through information faster, and slow aging processes.
Inverted postures are great for improving the blood flow and oxygen to the brain which consumes almost one-fifth of oxygen intake. The cerebral cortex controls most of the thinking. When it gets a good supply of blood, thoughts get clearer and sharper, memory is enhanced.
Then, when structures like the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, which influence the hormones in the body, get good blood supply, they start functioning better and improve the circulation of the hormones throughout the body. The limbic system, or the emotional brain, with a rich blood supply keeps emotions stable while the lower brain contributes to better sleep.
Certain yoga postures push the diaphragm up which helps to unclog the airways in the lungs by improving blood flow. This in turn improves breathing. So the blood which reaches the brain is oxygen-rich, keeping it active and alert, improving focus, memory, and creativity.
Balancing postures establish better co-ordination of the left and right side of the body and the left and right brain hemispheres too.
2. Yoga Energises and Calms The Nervous System
All the nerves that exit the brain reach the body via the spine. The nerves carrying messages from the body also reach the brain only through the spine. So the spine becomes an important mediator between the brain and the body. Yoga postures stretch and strengthen the spine, improve blood circulation in the spine and stimulate the spinal nerves, allowing a smooth conduction of messages between the brain and the body.
Yoga postures and breathing exercises help maintain an optimal vagal tone. The vagus nerve when activated creates calming responses in the body. It is a long nerve that runs from the brain till the stomach, with branches going to the heart and lungs. Resting vagal tone can be an indicator of mental health (mainly emotion regulation, anxiety, and internalizing and externalizing disorders).
3. Yoga Improves Hormonal Balance
When under stress our hormonal balance takes a tumble and so do the brain responses. The haywire hormones disrupt digestion, metabolism, sleep. This can lead you to feeling more anxious, tired, irritable, or depressed and cause issues with thoughts, memory, and judgement as well as your emotional stability.
The right selection of yoga techniques can stimulate the hypothalamus and main endocrine glands along with the pituitary, thyroid, adrenals, and pancreas, rolling back the stress hormone production. Yoga can also smooth the hormonal changes caused as we go through various life stages.
4. Yoga Improves Mindfulness
Meditation, breathing techniques and various yoga practices bring awareness to our self, to our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Many mental health concerns stem from ignoring the signals our mind and body give out in the early stages, before matters reach a point where we are unable to cope and need support.
Stress accumulates in our body as muscular tension. Holding yoga postures makes us aware of musculoskeletal imbalances, while stretching the muscles. In so doing, it helps to release tensed muscles and psychological stress in the process. This can improve willpower, endurance, and patience.
Breathing and meditation go further in tidying up any mental clutter and organising our thoughts so that we can focus on what is most relevant and significant in our lives – now and in the long-term.
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Bhavin has been working with high-level executives to enhance performance for over twenty years. Now based in London, he has taught yoga in India, Russia and UAE.
Originally from a corporate IT background, Bhavin quit his career with Oracle Corp. in 1999 after meeting Himalayan Yogi Bharat Thakur to train and be mentored as a yoga teacher. A natural and inspiring yoga teacher with an in-depth understanding of how various yoga practices impact the human anatomy and physiology, Bhavin fuses modern exercise science with classical Hatha Yoga practices to bring about a complete transformation.
Interested in booking yoga lessons with Bhavin? Click here to visit Bhavin's Bidvine profile.
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