Yoga and Mental Health: The Benefits of a Mindful Practice
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Yoga isn’t just about challenging postures. When we come to our mat, we so often find something much deeper, a peacefulness or an acceptance: a mindful practice.
We all need to take some time out every now and again, but for those who are battling mental health issues, the benefits of finding time and space to be mindful can be enormous, as Joe Ray tells us.
“For newcomers to yoga, the physical benefits of the practice are often its greatest appeal. That’s what first meets the eyes: slender builds with defined muscles, abs that you could wash your shirt against, flexibility. But in a world of constant stress, violence, and traumatic experiences that have many feeling anxious and depressed, a world where mental illnesses are being talked about at a much greater rate (possibly because they are being diagnosed at a much greater rate, or perhaps because we are simply finally starting to shed the stigma around the term “mentally ill”), yoga practice has benefits that run much deeper.
Self-Love through self-awareness
One of my favourite nonphysical aspects of my yoga practice is that it has allowed me to cultivate a much more nonjudgmental relationship with myself. When you build a sense of self, you are allowing space for grounding, confidence, and trust within. You become more confident in your abilities, less judgmental in what you see as your “flaws”, and more rooted into the centre of the person you truly are.
Relaxation through breathing techniques and meditation helps reduce the physical symptoms of some of the most common mental illnesses: anxiety and depression. They help lower your blood pressure and calm your mind. Developing a meditation routine that works for you can help you to become more present and capable of pinpointing the triggers that cause you to feel anxious or panicked, allowing yourself to feel the emotions, understand the emotions, and overcome the emotions.
One of the biggest battles a person with a mental illness can face is the constant feeling of never belonging. Awkward, misunderstood, and incapable are just a few of the self-inflicted insults that race through the mind. Yoga creates a sense of unity, an environment that is comfortable, filled with people of all abilities, of all walks of life, coming together to move and breathe and belong.
May we be mindful
To be aware allows us to boost our focus and improve our memory while also reducing our stress and our emotional reactivity. Mindfulness enhances our self-insight, intuition, and reduces our fear. It’s being aware of the present moment by being present in the moment while still accepting one’s inner thoughts and feelings calmly and rationally.
I have post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and generalised anxiety. I always make it a point when I talk about my mental illnesses to say that I have a panic disorder or that I have obsessive tendencies. Living mindfully has taught me that a lot of the positive shifts that occur in life occur not with physical actions but with the way we project ourselves into the world. I am a yogi, mother, wife, best friend, daughter. The things I have do not define my character. What I am is what makes me the person I have evolved into.
It is rare in life that we find ourselves so present within our own being that we are aware of the exact moment that we find ourselves at home. Not a building with four beautifully decorated walls and windows that overlook rolling hills, but the home that stirs within the soul and brings a calm that tells us we are exactly where the universe intended us to be. Like so many others, I first came to Yoga because life had left me feeling incomplete and broken, but I stayed because after taking that first step onto my mat, I felt whole, and I knew that I was home.
Joe Ray is a wife and mother currently living in the mountains outside of Asheville, North Carolina. She has been practicing yoga, meditation, and mindfulness as an approach to her mental health since January 2013. Along with her good friend, she co-founded Illuminated By U in 2017, a platform to promote mental health awareness and reducing stigma. You can follow Joe’s yoga journey on her Instagram @joe_lizzzzzz_yoga