Yoga is considered therapeutic. It helps you become more aware of your body’s posture, alignment, and patterns of movement. It increases flexibility, strength, and joint range of motion. It helps to promote deeper and more restful sleep.
Types of yoga can stabilize our autonomic nervous system equilibrium. It can improve lung capacity and increase the level of oxygen in the brain, increasing concentration and improving mood.
These have profound impacts on a person who has been experiencing depression and/or anxiety disorders.
Do you really get all these benefits just by doing some yoga poses? Not exactly.
What Is Yoga?
In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sutra 1.2 begins to define yoga as: “Yoga is experienced in that mind which has ceased to identify itself with its vacillating waves of perception.” In other words, there is an experience of yoga in which we can recognize that we are the observers of our own thoughts and emotions. This is not something that is told to us. This is something that is a felt experience.
Why Is Yoga Good For Your Mental Health
There are many benefits to yoga that improve mental health. Below are some reasons why yoga is good for your mental health:
- Improves your mood
- Relieves stress and anxiety
- Sharpens the mind calms the mind
- Boosts focus and memory
- Promotes self-awareness and introspection, which leads to a better quality of life.
What Are The 8 Limbs of Yoga?
The Yoga Sutras describe an eight-limbed path to guide this practice.
- Yamas: You can think of these as recommended actions for social harmony. There are five: Ahimsa (Non-Violence), Satya (Truthfulness), Asteya (Non-Stealing), Brahmacharya (Moderation in All Things), and Aparigraha (Non-Possessiveness).
- Niyamas: These are recommended actions for personal harmony. There are also five and they are: Saucha (Cleanliness), Santosha (Contentment), Tapas (Discipline), Swadhyaya (Self-Study), and Ishvara-Pranidhana (Devotion and Surrender).
- Asana: Asana is the practice of physical postures. The practice of these physical postures is known to improve our health, balance, flexibility, and strength. These physical postures can be viewed as a tool to calm the mind and prepare the body for stillness. It is important to note that the emphasis is not on perfection or mastery of the postures, but instead to allow the experience to be what it is. The practice of asana serves as a microcosm for how we live our lives. It is an opportunity to explore and control how we handle ease, difficulty, emotions, physical body, and concentration.
- Pranayama: Prana translates into energy, life force, or breath. Pranayama is the practice of exercising and controlling our breath to restore and maintain balanced energy. For some, this has the power to stabilize our autonomic nervous system equilibrium. For others, this can lead to a sharper, clearer mind.
- Pratyahara: Pratyahara translates into “control of ahara” and ahara translates into food. The yogis have three levels of food or ahara. The first level is the physical food that nourishes the body. The second level is impressions that nourish the mind and the third level is associations that nourish our heart/soul. By controlling what we take in on all levels, we have an opportunity to take inventory of what we are ‘eating’ and how that is sustaining us. Most of us are conscientious about the quality of food we eat or the people we spend time with that nourish our souls. How many of us stop to ponder the impressions our mind has made on the external world around us? A healthy body is most able to fight off bacteria and diseases, so too, a healthy mind is most able to fight off negative thoughts and thinking patterns. This is the gift of practicing pratyahara.
- Dharana: The essence of Dharana is to focus your attention on one direction or point of focus. This could be a mantra, a point in the room, or a deep breathing technique.
- Dhyana: Dhyana translates to profound meditation. This is easier to access as the seventh limb after honoring and practicing asana, pranayama, pratyahara, and Dharana. It consists of focused concentration on one point of focus intending to know the truth about it.
- Samadhi: Samadhi is a state of intense concentration achieved through meditation. It has been described as a calm or blissful state in which one is undisturbed by emotions or desires.
Although the eight limbs of yoga have been presented in order, it is important to understand that you do not have to go to reap yoga's mental health benefits.
“Yoga is the practice of tolerating the consequences of being yourself.” – Bhagavad Gita
To practice yoga means to commit to a daily practice, i.e., showing up. To commit to showing up means to allow yourself to come as you are. Every day you show up, you may feel differently and, therefore, move, feel, think, and breathe differently.
A crucial aspect of good mental health is the flexibility of the mind. Our yoga practice serves as just that microcosm for witnessing how we do that in our one-hour asana practice or 10-minute pranayama practice.
The choice is yours on how you practice.