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How does yoga help with mental health?

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

We all have mental health, it describes our physiological and emotional well-being. We often become aware of mental health when ourselves or others experience negative mental health.

The important thing to remember is that our mental health changes, daily and even minute to minute. “This too shall pass” perfectly captures that all things are in a constant state of change.

Poor mental health becomes a problem when it begins to affect our physical health, changes our behaviour and blocks us from achieving our personal best. In more serious cases poor mental health can result in harm and even death.

It is important to be aware that anyone can experience mental health problems, it is a very human condition and not something that should not cause shame. It can be caused by chemical imbalances, trauma, isolation, discrimination, stress, bereavement and physical health problems amongst many other triggers. Although the severity of trauma may vary, no one is exempt from negative experiences in their lives. Mental health problems are more likely to occur when we are unable to recognise, acknowledge and process trauma because we do not have the skills to do so.

Prevention is better than cure and yet as with physical illness we are more likely to address our mental health when it begins to manifest in physical ways and we become unable to cope in daily life and experience unhappiness and lethargy. The likelihood is that we have experienced some form of trauma and have ignored our feelings, we have ‘soldiered on’, ‘grinned and beared it’, ‘taken it like a man’, ‘been a hero’ or ‘stayed strong’.

Mental health has become high on the social agenda, which can only be a good thing. Unfortunately tackling this is not a quick solution and mental health issues are on the rise and have increased massively during the pandemic. The NHS, schools and charities are feeling the burden of the mental health crisis and not everyone is able to access the help they need.

The sad truth is that the modern world has caused us to become disconnected with ourselves, over stimulated and constantly craving the latest trends. Unhappiness levels are greater than ever and so we must reach the conclusion that focusing externally for happiness does not work.

Yoga has been practised for thousands of years and its teachings form the basis of many healing techniques used today such as physiotherapy, cognitive behaviour therapy and even heart surgeons are prescribing such techniques to manage the central nervous system and stress response.

Yoga means union. Union of the mind, body and emotions. There is evidence that the physical postures of yoga can support a physical body which in turn supports a healthy mind, but this is only one aspect of the ancient art. Physical exercise enhances body awareness and being aware of changes to physical sensations in our bodies allows us to make earlier intervention. Breathing techniques can be used to calm the central nervous system and return us to a place of safety. Increasing awareness by practising mindfulness, allows us to notice our thoughts and identity triggers which signal danger in our brains that may send us on a downward spiral of panic, depression and negativity. Recognising negative thought patterns, allows us to take control of these thoughts. To challenge them, to let go of inherited belief patterns and memories associated with traumatic events or adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s), and to replace them with positive affirmations.

We cannot stop bad things happening to us and negative thoughts are perfectly human experiences and essential to keep us safe. What we are able to do is to take control and to choose how we respond. Yoga brings self-awareness and acceptance and this leads to acceptance of others. We are able to be our best selves, to know our boundaries and our preferences and to live in a way that supports our own happiness and wellbeing.

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