Mental Health Week 2017 takes place from 9th to 14th of October and the World Health Organisation’s theme for World Mental Health Day on Tuesday, 10th October is Mental Health in the Workplace.
We’ve all heard at one time or another that yoga is good for stress, anxiety and overall mental health but, why is that so? Let’s take a little look at how the practice of yoga can influence your mental health and how you might implement it into your daily life.
The Mind-Body Connection
Have you ever thought about how your body can influence your mind and vice versa? We absentmindedly use this theory all the time. We have the ability to ‘change our state’ as discussed in last weeks article. For example, taking a walk to clear your mind, going to the gym to lift your mood, taking a bath to relieve stress, however, we never put much thought into the reason behind these solutions.
Simple things like our stance and posture can affect our moods. Try it now. Stand tall, chest out and take a deep breath. Notice how you feel. Now do the opposite. Slump your shoulders, try to breathe deeply. Notice a difference?
Stand tall, punch the air and shout "I’m depressed!"!! Are you? I’m not convinced! And neither are you! Our posture and physical actions can have a strong impact on our thoughts and words.
The good news is the ancient yogis had already made that connection for us long ago and devised a solution! *breathes sigh of relief*
How Yoga Affects the Mind
In a yoga class, certain poses are used to promote a desired state of mind. For instance, backbends and side-stretches can help stimulate the mind while forward bends and inversions can instil a more introspective state of being.
A typical class will generally move through the three yogic mental states known as the ‘gunas’. These are characterised by tamas (inertia), rajas (activity) and sattva (consciousness).
After taking a moment to let the brain ‘catch up with’ or ‘come back to’ the body and the present moment, followed by a gentle warm-up, the teacher will bring the class through a physical yoga sequence where the clients exert themselves in order to either overcome their inertia or burn off excessive energy.
A sequence of gentler twists, forward bends and inversions follow to instigate a more balanced and peaceful state before moving into Savasana (corpse pose), a simultaneously restful and rejuvenating pose at the end of a yoga class.
Let’s Take This Off The Mat
What we learn from practising yoga is what has already been subtly described in the beginning of this article. YOU are the master of your own destiny. You possess the tools and the power to change your state of mind and thus your state of being.
As a society, we are conditioned to thinking, feeling and reacting a certain way when life presents its challenges but, the solution does not come from outside. It comes from within.
It all begins with awareness and this can be cultivated in a yoga class. As you move through the various stages of a yoga class, you begin to become aware of how you are reacting to each part. You may feel it difficult to slow the racing mind when it’s time to be still.
You may find that you get angry or judge yourself in a physical pose that you find challenging. You may notice that you’re comparing yourself to others. These reactions to situations also occur off the mat but, when we are outside, living our lives, we fail to notice or reflect on our reactions because we are overwhelmed with external stimuli.
A yoga class brings with it the peace, and headspace to delve a little deeper and learn more about ourselves.
The techniques that we learn in a yoga class can then be brought into our daily lives at home, in the workplace, with friends. Stopping for a moment, taking a deep breath, softening the muscles that you are unconsciously holding tense, coming into the present moment can all help reduce stress, anxiety and reduce negativity.
Introducing yoga and meditation into your life is a massive step in taking charge of your mental health. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture of signing up to an annual membership at your local studio! Take a few minutes each day to focus on your breath.
Check out some yoga classes on YouTube. Start small but remember, consistency is key. These small and regular changes will prompt a shift in your body and mind for sure. Once you begin to notice these positive changes within, you’ll discover a whole new world!
Mental Health Week 2017 takes place from the 9th-14th October with World Mental Health Day on Tuesday, the 10th of October. Go to Mental Health Ireland to find out more about events and activities in your area and feel free to drop me a line for advice on yoga and meditation classes in your area.