Photo: @aeriallynn on Instagram
Although many individuals relish in their yoga practice for physical health benefits, there is just as much of a reason to love yoga for its mental health benefits. In the past few years, yoga and other mind-body practices have been a topic of interest for researchers in the psychology field, exploring its benefits for individuals working to improve their psychological well being. There is an increasing number of communities, such as hospitals, rehab centres and transitional homes incorporating yoga into their programming for improving mental health in many individuals.
Through research, yoga has been proven to help decrease stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and many other mental health issues. Yoga works by decreasing activity in the sympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the "fight or flight" response, which is typically responsible for constricting blood vessels and raising heart rate and blood pressure. The breathing practices in yoga calm the nervous system overall and give us the time to reset.
Here are a few psychological qualities that yoga can cultivate:
A lot of yoga practice focuses on using the breath as the main guide through movement. This gives us the experience of tuning into the present moment and increasing overall awareness. Many yoga teachers also encourage their students to let go of judgment toward themselves and accept where they are in their practice. By being in tune with our body movement and breath at the same time, we are practicing ways to be mindful both on the mat and in our daily life.
Because yoga requires commitment, it teaches us the importance of self-care and self-love. Along with letting go of judgment, it encourages us to love where we are and who we are. Yoga teaches us to appreciate that we are each perfectly imperfect and to embrace the diversity that we each bring to our yoga classes. We learn to encourage ourselves to maintain a holistic self-care practice that includes making time to care for our mind, body, emotions and spirituality in a non-judgmental and accepting way.
Yoga teaches us to take a step back, let go of our ego, and stick to our goals. The best way to improve in your yoga practice is through patience, especially for those who are just beginning their practice. It’s a challenge to let go of comparison, but it takes time to build a solid yoga practice and we learn that along the way. It teaches us to breathe through difficult postures just as we would through life challenges. We learn to find stillness during times of discomfort and find our breath during times when we need it the most.
One of the most impactful qualities to gain from yoga is the appreciation that you’re always learning and growing. Yoga gives you the opportunity to pause, reflect and set intentions for your practice that are parallel to your life intentions. You’re persistently checking in with yourself and asking yourself what it is that you need in that very moment in time. Yoga encourages us to always work toward being the best possible version of ourselves, but remaining open-minded and open-hearted during the process.
Yoga classes help build community and make people feel that they are part of something bigger. This is also applicable to the spiritual practice that comes from yoga that reminds us of elements of gratitude and aliveness. Yoga is a community where we can find support and a sense of belonging if you take the time to get to know those you’re practicing with. So, don’t be afraid to say hello next time you place your mat next to someone in class.