Yoga for Mental health: How Does Yoga Heal Stress And Depression?

How does yoga heal stress and depression?

Yoga for Mental health: How does Yoga heal Stress and Depression?

[ Contributors- Dani Mackey(Yoga Alliance), Juan Santos M.S., CRC, LCMHC,  Tanya J. Peterson(Mental health expert) ]

“Yoga adds years to your life and life to your years” quoted Alan Finger, a yoga legend. The Sanskrit meaning of ‘yoga’ is 'to listen'. It's about paying attention to the voice of your body, listening to your body and becoming aware of it. Once you welcome yoga into your life, you'd be a totally new and better person with vibrant vigor and endless charm.

In this article, ‘How does Yoga heal your body and mind?’ we shall discuss the role of yoga in healing a person, how it can contribute to bettering one’s mental health, reduction of stress, also including the innumerous physical health benefits it offers.

Yoga and its omnipotence

Yoga is a word that means union, and this simple word itself holds the key to why yoga is good for mental health. The mind and body aren’t two separate pieces that operate independently. We tend to live like they’re separate, though, and we don’t give our body and mind much thought until we experience problems. When we do, we focus on isolated symptoms like anxious thoughts, digestive troubles, or heart palpitations. We try to fix these separate issues, but we often fall short of doing so because we’re not approaching ourselves as a whole being.

Simplified, yoga uses breathing, postures, and concentration to unite mind and body and boost mental health and total wellbeing.

- Concentrating on breathing slowly and deeply directly affects our nervous system by turning off the fight-flight-or-freeze response of the sympathetic nervous system and activating the rest-and-digest response of the parasympathetic nervous system. The breathwork of yoga decreases our heart rate and blood pressure, returns blood flow to our core, and helps us feel calm.

- Yoga’s postures help release muscle tension and facilitate healthy circulation of blood and energy throughout our entire being.

- Yoga is a mindful movement practice, and concentrating on the breath and the sensation of the postures helps us feel more balanced and centered. Homing our focus this way helps direct our attention away from racing, stressful thoughts and emotions and into the present moment. Concentrating on ourselves nonjudgmentally, simply noticing our breath and movements, gives the mind something positive and concrete to focus on.

When we practice yoga, we nurture our mind and body as one, and we feel more centered and whole. Yoga isn’t a magic wand that solves problems. It’s more than that. It’s a powerful action that we take to reset and gain calm so we can choose our responses to difficulties. This is what mental health is ultimately about.

(RELATED: Mental health benefits of Shavasana)


How does yoga boost one’s emotional immunity?

According to Nancy Gerstein, Yoga teacher and CEO of a Chicago-based marketing firm, this is how practicing yoga is good for one’s  mental health:

1. Yoga induces a relaxed state that alleviates stress. It builds a mind–body partnership by helping you identify your own negative behaviors and thinking patterns.

2. A daily yoga practice develops a disciplined, reflective mind that forms a deep connection to the inner self. Yoga teaches you how to shift the direction of your energies and, in so doing, your entire physiology. It teaches us, through the body and breath, that life is full of possibilities, many of which are within our control.

3. Yoga teaches us calming techniques through the breath. Learning how to calm yourself down is of ben­efit to anyone, from toddlers to seniors. For instance, two-to-one breathing (lengthening the exhalation to twice as long as the inhalation) and short vinyasas such as five rounds of downward dog to upward dog to child’s pose helps us to clear and center the mind.

4. Yoga helps us free ourselves from negative thoughts and sensations. Yoga helps us face our fears. Asana(postures) and pranayama (breathing practices) are two of the most vigorous practices for releasing fear lodged in the body’s tissues. For instance, if you’re feeling a lack of courage, remember that backbends loosen the armor around the solar plexus and heart, stimulate the circulation in the spine, and make you feel more vital, alive, and brave.

6. Yoga keeps mild depression in check. Visualize someone or something you appreciate or love. There’s no denying that yoga is good for mental health, research shows that yoga has both instant and long-term benefits on reducing anxiety, stress, and depression. As you breathe, feel the emotion, not just the thought. Hold on to it for several minutes. Remember to send appreciation to your amazing body; it’s a living miracle. Yoga also promotes the release of endorphins, which are chemicals released naturally by the brain that induce a sense of well-being and pleasure. 

How does Yoga heal Stress and Depression?

Stress causes chronic fatigue, insomnia, indigestion, infections, lowers pumping of heart, etc. When you are frequently stressed, your body activates flight or fight mode. When your brain senses this, it sends danger signals to your body. And when this happens, all non-essential/non-urgent functions of your body like digestion, growth, repair, sleeping, etc shut down. If stress prolongs, it leads to disastrous results.

What do you think causes stress? The problem or your thoughts about the problem? Well, science says that it is your thoughts that actually cause stress.

 While stress has become a global health crisis (many call it an epidemic of its own), science teaches us that yoga offers a wide variety of posture, breath, meditation, and relaxation techniques that address stress in every way. Biomarkers of stress, such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels, and even shortened breath, all can improve after just one yoga session. Yoga practice also puts you into a better mood; when you feel your own happiness on the inside, your reactions to stressful situations are smoother and more balanced on the outside. 

Yoga also breaks up the stress response in the body by building in moments to pause and observe. Whether it’s in a particular pose or through 20 minutes of pranayama, yoga develops one’s ability to monitor and create space for any feeling, thought, or sensation that might pass through. This process then empowers better assessment and decision-making over what action to take or even what thought to have next. 

 Using micro-changes in mental states that create their own sensations of calm, yoga alters the stress response one action, breath, and thought at a time. This approach is also often accompanied by an overall sense of wellbeing and acceptance, which also reduces the effects of any stress exerted on you. Even the stress you generate internally is changed—a crucial point to remember (and experience!) as we enter the rough waters of the pandemic’s second year.

 Through yogic breathing/ pranayama stress can be cured efficiently. When you do this, you let prana infiltrate you. Yoga describes this 'prana', as subtle life force energy.

Prana flows through your body through the air you breathe and then passing into a system of channels called Nadis/ nerves and then gets concentrated in the regions of your body called chakras.

Yoga rewires and reprograms your entire synaptic connections of the neurons and initiates a different thinking approach. You could see the other side of things. It makes you look at the actual problem, that is your thoughts, and take steps to solve it. This is called Neuroplasticity. Yoga improves the plasticity of your brain.

(RELATED: Breakfast and Brain: Is Skipping Breakfast bad for Brain?)

Yoga improves Nerve growth factor ( NGF)

 Pranayama improves salivary glands stimulation. Saliva contains essential proteins and compounds. One of them is the Nerve growth factor. NGF is a protein that helps your neurons live longer, healthier, and makes you withstand stress. 

NGF is a therapeutic agent that can heal Alzheimer's too. Patients with Alzheimer's and other related disorders can be cured through the practice of yogic breathing. This fact was established in research conducted by Sundar Balasubramanian. He says that "Controlling your mind is possible by controlling your breath".

Sleep and Decision-making

Perhaps one of the most noticeable and immediate effects of yoga is that it encourages healthy sleep. The direct line from good yoga to good sleep is the easiest to witness: the more relaxed you are overall, the likelier it is that you will get to sleep and stay there. 

The second effect is subtler but even more interesting. The more regular your yoga practice, the greater your chances are of making good choices such as opting in on a good night’s sleep. It isn’t even that your more relaxed body will take you to a deeper and better slumber, it’s that your yoga-practiced mind will prioritize other choices in your waking life—less caffeine, healthier eating, more nurturing relationships—that reinforce the decision to ensure you get good, solid nighttime rest. It bears repeating, especially when faced with stressful times, that healthy behaviors, yoga, and mindfulness all tend to align with one other

Realization of Actual Harmony and Happiness

We live in a world which believes, to be happy from inside we got to rely upon external circumstances. We can be happy only if our expectations are lived up to. But, how often does it happen? Very rarely. And if our expectations gap is not met, we feel the surge of disappointment flush through, which manifests into stress, depression, and many severe troubles. What is actual harmony and how can you find it?

Silence is believed to be the authentic harmony that brings about happiness. It's serene and tranquil. Meditation helps you find this harmony and equilibrium. It's an exercise that trains your mind to regulate itself, enhancing your ability to focus and making you more clear with things.

Practicing meditation over time makes you love yourself and even others. It makes you more compassionate and confident, reduces stress, anxiety, and makes you more mindful. According to Caroline Baumgartner, yoga instructor,  yoga is about the practice of cultivating the mind, body and breath connection to journey inward. Yoga teaches us to exist without judgment, not embracing the comfortable and not rejecting the uncomfortable, to simply observe both. 

The combination of practicing observation without judgement and tuning into your breath to guide you provides a sense of peace in the mind. Yoga can be an extremely gratifying practice in that it quiets the outside noise and let's you simply exist in each moment as you are. When you focus on and lead with breath you enter a meditative state. 

For these reasons, people encountering outside stressors find stress relief and a release of anxiety when they practice and those who have a dedicated practice find those outside stressors don't impact them as they once did. 

(RELATED: How to Stop Overthinking?)

Physical health benefits of yoga

1.It improves your immunity and builds the resistance power to fight viruses, bacteria, and other parasites.

2. Muscle tone- It improves your flexibility by stretching and toning your muscles. Not only that, it builds muscle strength.
3. Improves respiration- Yogic breathing or pranayama is known to heal many ailments. One of them is improving respiration by expanding the capacity of your lungs. 
4. Heals chronic pain. It heals ailments like chronic lower back pain, arthritis. It regulates your blood pressure and cures insomnia.
5. Improves vision, clarity, and enables better sleeping. 
6. Improves oxygen levels.- It was found that during cyclic meditation,( practicing yogasanas with time to time resting periods) oxygen consumption increases by 55%.

Yoga for Mental health

 According to WHO, globally 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression. Approximately 2200 people die every day of suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death especially in the age group of people from 15-29 years. And innumerous people are suffering from obesity and cardiac troubles. Our lifestyle is making things worse.

Just about everyone experiences stress in life. Stress from family conflict or from the typical struggle to establish work and life balance. When a person feels stressed their body and mind react.

The person begins to experience irregular breathing that leads to poor circulation. They feel tension around the shoulders and back that often leads to headaches. Sleep becomes irregular. And before you know it, life becomes a little more difficult. Adding yoga to your lifestyle creates a powerful transformational change.

Yoga is the solution that heals almost every trouble you are facing. Now many people have become aware of the exquisite benefits of yoga and got themselves adapted to it. 

1.  Yoga teaches people to understand how to breathe in a manner that regulates heart rate and improves blood pressure. This right away helps us when we feel stressed. Consider a week that you are struggling with work and life balance. You feel on edge, overly worked, and at times agitated because you are not able to do the fun things that you want to do.

Yoga shows people how to build a stronger relationship with their body. Yoga teaches people to listen to their body. To build a relationship with their body so that they are able to address issues and improve their overall wellbeing.

Concluding- 'Yoga for Mental health: How does Yoga heal Stress and Depression?'

 You can start it today, right now, if you haven't. You can do it wherever you want. You can do it whenever you are free. You don't even need any particular attire to practice yoga. Anything you are comfortable with would suffice. But make sure it's a bit snug. 

Doing yoga and meditation might seem a bit complicated in the beginning. But, over time, it gets normal. Practice it at least for a span of twenty minutes regularly. A small step that you take today, can make a huge difference.

 I hope my article, 'Yoga for Mental health: How Does Yoga Heal Stress And Depression?' is of assistance. Subscribe to my newsletter and get all updates delivered straight into your inbox.



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