Before we get into how yoga affects your mental health, let’s get clear on what mental health means.
As per common perceptions, a person with sound mental health has a healthy mind and is in control of his thoughts and behaviors. This is one definition of mental health that is true on one level but let’s go deeper.
Let’s not limit mental health just to the thoughts and behaviors. On deeper levels, good mental health means that we are also emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy. In fact, our mental health is deeply and intricately connected to our physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
This is where yoga comes in to save the day. Yoga means ‘union’ – a union of the body, mind, and soul.
Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not just limited to the postures but also extends into meditation, breathing exercises known as Pranayama, and all the eight limbs of yoga that include the deep wisdom of this ancient art.
The yoga postures, meditation, and breathing exercises practiced sincerely together can genuinely transform the suffering of a human being. Before I started my yoga journey, life was chaotic in many ways.
My mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health was out of shape. The first ‘aha’ moment of clarity came to me during my very first yoga asana class when I felt the energy in my body move, cleanse, and purify.
This was the beginning of my healing journey and after eight years of being devoted to yoga and learning each day more about the yogic life and, most importantly, myself, my mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health has never been better.
Here are some ways in which yoga helped me improve my mental health:
Relieves Stress and Anxiety
One of the most essential ways of how yoga affects your mental health is that it helps you reduce stress and anxiety. Yoga postures, meditation, breathing exercises helped me heal my nervous system.
When we feel stressed or anxious, our nervous system also feels the discomfort of this and goes haywire too. Yoga helps heal and rewire the nervous system. When first our nervous system responded with stress and anxiety, it now responds with peace and calm.
A healthy and calm nervous system directly leads to a healthy and peaceful state of mind.
This is perhaps one of the most expansive ways of how yoga affects your mental health. To understand how yoga helps with healing our mental health, let’s first understand what causes an imbalance in mental health in the first place?
One of the things that cause an imbalance is the lack of awareness. The awareness of who we are, our purpose, awareness about the world, and our relationships – this awareness is essential for balanced mental health.
Yoga postures, meditation, and breathing exercises because an alchemical change within our physical and energetic bodies, and in this process, our awareness expands.
From an increased awareness about ourselves and everything that we care about, we are in a better position to feel calm and cantered. With an expanding awareness comes peace, calm, joy, and improved mental health.
Improves overall physical health
As I mentioned above that our mental health is deeply interconnected with our overall health, which includes our physical health as well. The healthier and more vibrant our physical bodies are, the better our mental health will be.
Yoga increases our energy levels, and it is also scientifically proven that yoga heals many physical ailments, including injuries in accidents, etc. High blood pressure, diabetes, digestion problems can all be beautifully managed through yoga.
Moving our bodies in specific postures and practicing certain breathing exercises heals the physical body on many levels, which in turn leads to improved mental health.
Carl Jung, a renowned psychologist, says that the disruption in mental health is deeply connected to emotions. When we carry too many unresolved emotions within us, it often leads to a decline in our mental health.
We carry all of these unresolved emotions in our body, and it leaves us feeling heavy and tired. Many a time, due to the unresolved feelings in our bodies, we often function too much from our heads than resting in our body and listening to the wisdom of our bodies.
Yoga, with its body movements and breathing movements, helps immensely with moving these stuck emotions in the body and bring them to surface to be released. So if during or after a yoga class, you feel like crying, don’t hold yourself back.
Cry, feel, and release the suppressed emotions so you can come back to your body and enjoy a balanced state of mental health.
Another amazing way in how yoga affects your mental health is that it increases your ability to focus profoundly. In today’s age of technology and fast food spirituality where we don’t read books anymore, our concentration power has reduced tremendously.
Focus and concentration are a great measure of mental health and the overall health of a human being. Yoga helps increase our focus and concentration, which profoundly helps in healing our mental health.
As Haruki Murakami says, “The power to concentrate was the most important thing. Living without this power would be like opening one’s eyes without seeing anything.”
Last but not least, yoga helps with our spiritual growth. When our soul and spirit become sick, that is when we start to have mental health problems. Yoga, when practiced with dedication and sincerity, helps us grow spiritually and heal our spirit.
Spiritual growth and healing are a tough process at first. At first, this process brings out all that is false within us, so we can begin to live a life of truth. Living a false life is what causes mental health issues in the first place.
After the hard part is over in this process of spiritual expansion, we feel more balanced, more in alignment with truth, and mentally healthy and sound.
Yoga has amazing healing benefits that spread across on all levels of our being. The biggest gift yoga has given me is the gift of healing my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health, and for this, I am forever grateful.
When our mental health is balanced and steady, life feels like a joyful, exciting, and wondrous adventure!