How Yoga Can Improve Mental Health- 12 Ways to Change

Yoga Can Improve Mental Health

How Yoga Can Improve Mental Health

Let’s learn how yoga can improve mental health. There is a growing body of research that supports the benefits of yoga for mental health. According to Yoga Journal, over 15 million people are practicing yoga, pushing the practice to mainstream. Yoga combines physical movement, stretching, meditation, and breath work. This improves overall fitness, health, strength, flexibility, and lung capacity. Yoga also has benefits like reducing back pain, blood pressure, and heart rate.

Lesser known is the benefits that yoga has on psychological issues. The American Psychological Association states, “Several recent studies suggest that yoga may help strengthen social attachments, reduce stress and relieve anxiety, depression and insomnia. Researchers are also starting to claim some success in using yoga and yoga-based treatments to help active-duty military and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.” Below are 12 ways that that practice of yoga can improve mental health.

How Yoga Can Improve Mental Health

“Never give up on someone with a mental illness. When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘we,’ Illness becomes Wellness.”

Shannon L. Alder

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Yoga Can Improve Mental Health

This blog will show you how yoga can improve mental health though 12 different aspects. Yoga has so many benefits and can be used as a tool to improve health and wellbeing. Let’s outline these 12 beneficial aspects.

1. Yoga Increases Flexibility

Yoga asana builds flexibility through stretches connected to breath. When we get anxious or depressed, lactic acid builds up in our muscles causing discomfort. Yoga stretches help us to release this lactic acid which relieves pain and increases blood flow to muscles which can improve circulation. Increasing flexibility improves quality of life. Everyone wants to be able to bend down and tie their shoes. Yoga can improve mental health by helping us to feel good in our skin.

Utthita Hasta Padangustasana B can build flexibility in the hip flexors, groin, and hamstrings

2. Yoga Improves Balance

Yoga improves balance by strengthening the muscles and tendons in the ankles. Balancing also forces us to use our core. But how does this improve mental health? Balancing focuses the mind. We have to focus on a pin point to find stability. This single minded focus can still the mind that is spinning with anxious thoughts or fears. It can tune your focus into your strength, your calm, and your breath. Yoga can improve mental health and physical balance.

Vrkasana is a balancing pose that activates the ankles and core.

3. Yoga Poses help us learn to let it be ok

Yoga can improve mental health by teaching giving us the space to let it be ok. We start to learn that some poses can be challenging and we may master them over time. Take twists for example. When we get stressed, our digestive system can be effected. Twists work directly on our digestive system by squeezing the digestive organs. This is one reason why twists can be difficult. It also makes them very rewarding when we understand how to release tension and stress through twisting. It all takes time and patience and we have to let it be ok to take that time.

Parvitta Parsvakonasana to release stress and digestive issues

4. Yoga Teaches You That You May Not Master It

Yoga can improve mental health by teaching you that you may not master it. There are poses that we do on the yoga mat which our bodies may never master. That does not mean that we should stop doing yoga, coming to the mat. We just learn to live with our bodies limitations and grow from them. This is similar to mental health. We will inevitably have bad days, we are not meant to be perfect. In yoga we learn to release the judgement and we can take this knowledge off the mat as we think about our mental health.

“Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it—just as we have learned to live with storms.”

Paulo Coelho
Ashta Chandrasana is a difficult pose that we never master

5. Yoga Teaches Us to Take It Breath by Breath

In the suyra namaskara sequence, each pose is connected to a breath, an inhale or an exhale. We do not move on to the next pose until we take that next breath. When we are living under the threat of anxiety, we forget to breathe. We don’t remember that it is ok to take one breath at a time, one thought at a time. Yoga can improve mental health by reminding us that we can take it one breath at a time.

“Anxiety happens when you think you have to figure out everything all at once. Breathe. You’re strong. You got this. Take it day by day.”

Karen Salmansohn
Urdhva Muhka is in the Suyra Namaskara sequence and always happens on an inhale

6. Yoga Teaches Breath Control

Breath work is one of the most important things we do in yoga practice. We primarily use ujjayi breath, deep breathing in and out of the nose, but there are many effecting breath techniques utilized in mediation and yoga practice. Yoga breathing has been found to lower stress and improve cardio vascular functioning.  It improves lung function and respiratory endurance. It lowers the heart rate and promotes well-being. Focusing on breath can help the mind clear and take the focus off anxieties and stressors. Breathwork is a powerful way yoga can improve mental health.

“Being present to our anxiety is an act of self-love.”

Manoj Dias.
Try breathwork in sukhasana pose.

7. Yoga Teaches Us to Modify

Many times we encounter a yoga pose that is difficult for our bodies. What do we do? We modify the pose. This does not mean that take away all the good, strong qualities of the pose, we just change the focus of the pose. In times of stress or anxiety, sometimes we need to modify. We need to learn to look at things another way so that we can carry on in a healthy way. Yoga can improve mental health by teaching us that we need to modify our outlook.

This is how I modify King Dancer pose!

8. Yoga builds strength

One way that yoga can improve mental health is by building strength. Depression and anxiety can make us feel weak. Since depression and anxiety can make us act lethargic, we may loose some of our strength. Yoga activates the muscles as it is a weight bearing exercise. Poses like Goddess Pose (shown below) place pressure on the hips and we have to use the strength of our muscles to hold us up.

“It does not make you weak if you need a little extra encouragement in this season of your life.”

Morgan Harper Nichols.
Goddess pose can help us feel strong!

9. Yoga Makes You Feel Courageous

The Warrior Poses- I, II, III, humble warrior, reverse warrior (Warrior II shown below), they all have a way to make you feel strong and courageous. Move into a Warrior Pose and realize that each time you come to your mat, it is a chance to try again. Over time, yoga can improve mental health. Think of this quote as you work to face your fears about mental illness,

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.”

Mary Anne Radmacher.
Warrior II with a strong shadow warrior going before you

10. Yoga Can Teach You That You’re Strong

Every time you overcome anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or even a bad day, you grow stronger. Every time you come to the yoga mat you grow stronger. You gain confidence when you can look back and say, “wow, I pulled through! I’m amazing!”

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”

Eleanor Roosevelt.
Yoga can improve mental health by giving you the courage to look your illness in the face.

11. Yoga Will Give You Endorphins

Every time we move in a positive, physical way, we get endorphins to the brain. Every time we exert energy, breathe a little deeper, work up a threat, we get endorphins. Endorphins are feel good chemicals that can counter the feelings of stress. Yoga can improve mental health by filling us with feel good endorphins.

Time to have fun on the mat!

12. Yoga Teaches You to Be Yourself

I often tell my yoga students that they are the only one on the mat and they get to decide what happens there. You are in control on your mat. You can do as little or as much as you want. You can take liberties with yoga poses or you can honor tradition. You have the right to be yourself in the safe yoga space.

“If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.”

Brené Brown
You are safe to be yourself on the yoga mat.

Yoga can improve mental health. Come on to the mat and see where it will take you. For a comprehensive healing product, check out Journey to Healing Through Chakras.

Published by Yoga Traveler

Yoga is my passion, teaching is my life. I started teaching yoga when my husband entered the US Air Force and now my career travels with me. Every time I move, I look for places to teach and a community of caring yogis who I grow to love and then one day, leave behind. This is a place where we can reconnect and create our yoga together. This site can travel with you. Welcome!

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