Dead bug, down dog, and full moon. If this sounds like an average Saturday night at my house….well, you are correct. But it is also the name of some of my favorite yoga poses! I recently rediscovered my love of yoga when a class near me opened up. I knew the instructor, and when I bumped into her at an event she said “come, please come Jenn, you will love it!!”. So I followed her advice and as usual, she was right. I instantly fell back in love with this practice. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve practiced here and there over the years….but it’s been more casual and less consistent then I would actually like to admit.
I started practicing yoga around 15 years ago when I was pregnant with my second child. The gentle flow and stretches offered an alternative exercise that my roundly pregnant body could actually do without feeling as though I was going to pass out or fall over at any moment. Yes. You read that right. I said GENTLE. Because really, yoga is gentle. I know when I mention yoga, we instantly get this picture in our mind of this fit, beautiful blonde supermodel-esque person standing on their head with their legs easily pressed behind their ears in some pose that would make a contortionist cringe; but that isn’t yoga. Well. It is…but that’s not the whole picture. You see, in yoga, you are not meant to compete with other people. The purpose of yoga is to practice within the limitations of YOUR OWN body…and that is wonderfully freeing and this is one of the many reasons yoga does your mental health wonders.
At the beginning of our sessions, my yoga instructor has us “set an intention” for the day’s practice. It can be anything we want it to be, but essentially this is what we are “to take away” from the practice. This has been different from other instruction I have had in practice, and I LOVE IT. Setting an intention for my practice helps keep me focused on what I really want to get out of the session. Some days I set the intention of peace for my emotions, other days it’s healing, sometimes it’s love. When I find my mind wandering, or watching another person in the class and comparing my abilities to theirs, I can redirect my attention back to my intention. This has been immensesly helpful in keeping me on track and I believe helpful in what has made me fall back in love with yoga. If you regularly practice yoga and do not currently set an intention at the beginning of your practice- I highly recommend doing so.
So, in what other ways does yoga help your mental health? I’ve created a list (it’s just what I do) below outlining some of the ways/reasons yoga is beneficial for your mental well being:
- It calms your nerves. This one may seem a little obvious, but for good reason. The movement along with the deep breaths taken, help move your body from fight-or-flight (or a sympathetic nervous system response) to a parasympathetic response. So that calming sensation you feel after a yoga session is actually your body in a parasympathetic response.
- Research (1,2,3) has shown regular yoga practices reduce depression, PTSD, anxiety, and eating disorder symptoms more than medication alone. No one knows why exactly this is, and a lot of research is still in it’s infancy, however the results so far show potential. Speculation is that it helps reduce symptoms more then medication alone due to yoga’s overall effect on the bodies overall stress response, as well as by teaching individuals to breathe correctly (yeah, I know, everyone knows how to breathe…but did you know you could be doing it more effectively?)
- Yoga teaches you to unite your body and your mind. Have you ever had someone point out to you that you seem tense? Or been sitting at your desk or table and all the sudden noticed you are tensing up your shoulders? Many of us carry in our bodies the stress and tension going on in our mind. When you begin to practice yoga regularly, you begin to become more aware of the relationship between your body and your mind, and begin to unite the two.
- It gets the blood flowing to help your body eliminate waste, increase GABA production, and oxygenate your blood (4). This helps promote that overall stress reduction response I’ve been blabbering on about. And while increased blood flow is true of any exercise, some exercise can actually be stimulating to your sympathetic nervous system short term (which isn’t always a bad thing), but yoga’s gentle movements helps to slowly stimulate blood flow which results in a lasting relaxation response.
Now that you have all this newfound knowledge on why yoga is so good for your mental health, how do you begin?
There are lots of sources to start practicing yoga. Locally, you can find classes at local gyms, community education partnerships through your city or school district, a local yoga studio (if you are lucky enough to have one in your area) and/or by searching good ole google for “yoga classes near me”. With this in mind, if you are new to the practice, you want to make sure you are taking instruction from a certified yoga instructor to avoid injuries or misinformation. To find out if the person leading your local yoga class is certified, the best way to find out is to ask them! It is okay to ask them if they are certified, where they obtained their training, and other questions to help you feel more comfortable knowing you are in good hands.
As for practicing yoga at home, the internet has made this more accessible then ever. Of course, if you don’t have readily accessible internet, there is always DVD and bluRay to start your home practice. Below, I’ve outlined some of my favorite sources (websites and dvds) to use to practice at home:
- doyogawithme.com This is probably one of my favorite, go-to sources for home yoga practice. Many of the classes are free to stream and all are taught by certified yoga instructors. They offer yoga for different ages, abilities, and ailments.
- Gaia I recently discovered Gaia when a “you might like” video popped up on my feed. To be honest the video was about alien abductions and I was kind of confused why it was recommended to me, but I digress. Anyways. I looked into what in the heck this “Gaia” thing is anyways and I found they actually have a lot to offer crunchy hippies like me. They offer a lot of yoga classes, meditations, and other holistic minded video streaming. Now, of course, you have to use your critical thinking skills with this one if you choose to stray from their yoga streaming because they’ve got quite an array of conspiracy theory shows on there, and I’m throwing out the disclaimer here that I do not subscribe to everything that is on there….I’m there pretty much for the yoga. Because it’s cheap and the classes are good!
- Yoga for Urban Living by Hemalaya Behl This is one of the first yoga DVD’s I ever purchased and it remains my favorite. It features three different flows and some breathing exercises/techniques. It is perfect for a beginner, or even someone who has been practicing a long time.
That’s all for now. Do you have any good recommendations for yoga DVD’s or websites? Comment below!
Until next time,
- Vollbehr, N. K., Rogier Hoenders, H., Bartels-Velthuis, A. A., & Ostafin, B. D. (2017, August). The Effects of Yoga for Depression. Retrieved August 1, 2019, from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/08/yoga-depression.pdf
- Sharma, A., MD,PhD, Barret, M. S., PhD, Cucchiara, A. J., PhD, Gooneratne, N. S., MD, & Thase, M. E., MD. (2017). A Breathing-Based Meditation Intervention for Patients With Major Depressive Disorder Following Inadequate Response to Antidepressants: A Randomized Pilot Study. Retrieved August 1, 2019, from https://www.psychiatrist.com/jcp/article/Pages/2017/v78n01/v78n0107.aspx
- Carly R. Pacanowski, Lisa Diers, Ross D. Crosby & Dianne Neumark-Sztainer (2017) Yoga in the treatment of eating disorders within a residential program: A randomized controlled trial, Eating Disorders, 25:1, 37-51,DOI: 10.1080/10640266.2016.1237810
- Khoshaba, D., PsyD. (2013, May 23). Take a Stand for Yoga Today. Retrieved August 1, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/get-hardy/201305/take-stand-yoga-today