Finally, mental health awareness is getting the overdue attention it deserves.
After all, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime.
And while therapy and medication can help, so too can yoga.
Linda Malone, Founder of Toronto’s Iam Yoga, witnesses the mental health benefits of yoga on the regular.
“Mindfulness practices like yoga are powerful tools that can be used to mitigate the physical and biological symptoms that occur as a result of disorders like depression, anxiety and mood disorders,” she says. “Because the body and mind are not separate, mental health disorders are embodied physically, and are in fact physical disorders just as much as they considered mental or emotional ones.
So, if you’re feeling the effects of the “winter blues,” here’s how yoga can help:
1. It Helps Your Chemical Balance
“When the stress response is initiated, a few things happen biologically; we produce higher levels of adrenaline and cortisol, for example,” says Malone. “Higher levels of these chemicals reduce our inability to metabolize fat as efficiently. They also reduce our immune response, making us more susceptible to illness and disease.” Using focused breathing and yoga postures, she tells us that we’re able to mitigate the impact of this response, in turn bolstering biological functioning rather than impeding it.
2. It Stabilizes the Nervous System
“Depending on the mental health state we are experiencing, we can use yoga tools to stabilize the nervous system,” says Malone. “You should begin to think of yoga postures and breathing techniques as specific tools to counter the biological imbalance brought about by stress, depression, anxiety and traumatic events.” She notes that not every style of yoga is recommended as a cure-all for every mental health state.
3. It Creates Energy
“If you are experiencing symptoms of depression and lethargy, you can stabilize the nervous system by participating in a set of movements and breathing techniques that are uplifting, like a more vigorous style of yoga or yoga flow,” says Malone.
4. It Brings You and Your Mind to an Inner Calm
“If you’re anxious and feeling more manic, you can use particular styles of yoga and breathing to slow down your stress response and calibrate the nervous system,” says Malone. “Here, slower more methodical yoga postures and breathing should be applied.”
5. It Equalizes Your Breathing
“Often, our unthinking response to stress involves experiencing erratic and incomplete breathing,” says Malone. “Applying specific breathing techniques like ‘Ujayi’ breathing can help to oxygenate the brain and body allowing the individual to temper the symptoms that can lead to increased anxiety and further de-stabilize the nervous system.”
6. It Builds up your Lymphatic System
Remember, mental health and physical health are intertwined. Yoga is one of the best ways to circulate lymphatic fluid, which has a huge impact on supporting the immune system. “Lymphatic fluid only moves as much as we move, fold and bend our bodies,” says Malone. “When our glands swell up when we get sick, it happens because lymphatic fluid is filtering bacteria it draws from the blood stream. The more we move around in a focused way, stimulating the movement of lymphatic fluid, the more we are doing to bolster the healthy and optimal functioning of our entire lymphatic system.”
7. It Offers a Chance to Shut it all Out and Get in “The Zone”
No matter what is happening in your life, a yoga class offers 60-90 minutes of time where you can be totally selfish, tuning out everything around you and living in the moment. “Following the research and work completed in the field of Positive Psychology, a discipline that examines the how and why of what ‘happiness’ is and how to find it, a hallmark of ‘happy’ people is their ability and opportunity to access a state of ‘flow’ on a regular basis,” says Malone. And yoga is a great way to get into that flow, or “zone.”