by Angie Newson

April 13, 2020

For those suffering with mental health issues, it could be said that fortunately there is now a little more information out there about how to improve one’s state of mind – and even though there is still a long way to go with the help and advice that is available, practising yoga offers many benefits for one’s emotional and mental wellbeing, sharpening our attention and concentration and at the same time offering physical improvements to the body.

It can be confusing as to which style of yoga to choose if you are particularly looking to raise low mood levels and ease mild depression and reduce stress. Not all yoga is slow, easy and chilled. Hot yoga and power/dynamic yoga for example will activate the sympathetic nervous system – and you may discover after a strong, sweaty class, the deeper the savasana (relaxation) at the end as the body and mind shift from a heightened state to a profound sense of peace and calm.

Stretching releases tension. Busy/fast/physical people usually naturally tend to gear towards these styles although it may be more beneficial to practise yin or restorative yoga – where poses are held for longer, resisting going pass your edge and working with the breath, so you soften, surrender and let go.

Being in your body with your breath as opposed to being in your head will not only release stored muscle tension and tightness in the body but also calms the nervous system and improves mood. Breathing with intention and focus can activate the parasympathetic nervous system thus reducing cortisol levels

Whatever style of yoga you choose, and the main thing is to find the yoga you are comfortable with, by attending a class on a regular basis means you will have the chance to see and chat to the same practitioners each time. There is a sense of camaraderie by practising in a group and studies show that being in a routine and a group environment help to raise mood levels.

Live-streamed online classes are proving more and more popular and in the unprecedented times of lockdown, have proved incredibly successful for our emotional and mental wellbeing. Many people enjoy the live inter-action of a teacher, routine and ‘seeing’ and connecting with other class members.

Meditation is at the core of one’s yoga practice which helps balance the mind, lowering high blood pressure and lowering your heart rate. If anxious thoughts come in to your mind, each time return to the homebase of your breath.

The discipline of yoga allows us to notice our thoughts without acting upon them. Avoid blocking the thoughts, but be aware of them coming back to the breath each time. Practise gratitude.

Yoga is an aid to improving mental wellbeing – it may help to manage cravings, control anger, face fear and other dilemmas but resist the temptation of thinking that because you ‘do’ yoga you can avoid these and other issues or problems.

‘Be’ with yourself, notice and feel and live in the moment. Regular practice strengthens your focus, observation and awareness and if you feel you can’t cope on your own, seek medical help. Remember along with your yoga practice, good mental wellbeing is helped by a nutritious and healthy diet, being well-hydrated and having a solid and sound sleep routine each night.

There isn’t much scientific evidence to show that yoga helps reduce insomnia but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to support this. Resist over-doing social media, keeping up with the Jones and instead go within to find the capacity to love yourself, spreading love, grace and harmony to your friends, family and into the world.

Viparita Karani (legs up the wall) is a relaxation pose that not only calms the nervous system and relieves stress but is a wonderful restorative pose to help you refresh and restore energy, nourishing the body and the mind. Simply sit up sideways close to a wall.

Then turn towards the wall as you swing the legs around so they are vertical. Place a pillow or a neatly folded blanket under the neck and headed if needed. Arms about 45 degrees away from your sides with palms upturned.

Close your eyes or use an eye pillow. Inhale and exhaling through the nose. Stay for as long as you can. To come out of the pose, simply bend both knees, push yourself a little away from the wall and roll to one side. Bring yourself gradually up. 

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