It is common to associate physical activity to improving our physical looks however movement has many benefits to our mental health. In recognition of Mental Health Week, here are 7 ways how yoga can improve our mental health, backed with some evidence based research.
1.Mindfulness for stress resilience
Mindfulness is being aware and present in what we are doing in the now. There are over 200 studies on mindfulness therapies that have shown to reduce anxiety, depression and various afflictions. Instead of overthinking or ruminating on things we can’t control going on in our external environment, yoga draws our attention to our body, the body sensations and the way we move. In doing so, not only does it reduce our stress levels, but has also been shown to improve the way we respond and recover from stressful situations.
2. Moving for neuroplasticity
Yoga involves being aware of each movement creating that mind-body connection. It also releases feel good, mood-regulating hormones such as serotonin, a hormone that also makes us feel more secure which is naturally lower in women compared to males. In addition, movement releases ‘brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and promotes neuroplasticity, helping our brain adapt when learning new things, stress and our environment. This is important given that neuroplasticity declines as we age.
3. Breath work for creative thinking
Have you ever noticed how you breathe? Given that we are often shallow breathing most of the day, this causes low-grade stress in the body. It puts us in a reactive state where we focus on the worst outcomes, become hypervigilant and anxious. Science also shows that when we are stressed, the more primitive parts of our brain are activated, limiting other parts of the brain that are involved in providing different ideas and creative solutions. The breath is the quickest, simplest and most effective way to calm ourselves and think clearer. Yoga includes a range of breathing exercises depending on the yoga style and teacher. You may be introduced to breath techniques like deep belly breathing and Ujjayi breathing. All these practices invite more oxygen into the body and directly reduce the stress response.
4. Meditation for clarity
There are many studies that show meditation can help us to regulate our emotions and better respond to stress. However, where do you even begin? In a yoga session, the teacher will guide you to simple and practical meditation practices that you can do at home. There is a strong focus on practices that help direct your attention from the busy ‘monkey mind’ to the sensations of the body and breath to help ground and improve your connection to self.
5. Gratitude for self-trust
Being grateful has been shown to activate the reticular activating system (RAS) of the brain. It also releases dopamine and serotonin, the feel good hormones. The effect of this is that when we are going about our day, we focus more on things that are working in our life. This helps us to feel accomplished, more certain with ourselves, create more self-belief and self-trust. During a yoga session, the yoga teacher often incorporates positive intentions and affirmations so you focus more on what is working in your life and the many things to be grateful for to develop a more positive outlook and attitude on life.
6. Develop emotional resilience
Many studies have shown that yoga helps to regulate and manage our emotions. The combination of mindful poses and postures, breath-work, and stress reduction- based activities is suggested to help improve attention, regulate the autonomic nervous system and the biochemicals that are part of emotional regulation. Being able to manage your emotions helps to better respond and adapt to stress and develop mental resilience.
7. Create a deeper connection to Self
Yoga invites us to check in with ourselves and how we are really feeling. This may be something we don’t put as a priority throughout the day. Adopting a regular yoga practice may also help to find a deeper sense of belonging and connection, understand our thought patterns and emotional responses and how we perceive our challenges.
If you would like to begin a regular movement practice, the Myall Ritualise Membership can help you ease into a simple routine.
You can attend any 2 yoga or mat Pilates classes a week for only $29 per week, for a minimum commitment of 12 weeks. This would be the best way to commit to a regular yoga practice whilst still leaving room to move in other ways you like throughout the week.
In addition, if you purchase the Ritualise membership in October upfront, you will receive an additional month completely free. This means that each class is less than $11.
- Access to 2 classes each week of yoga, pilates & meditation
- Access to virtual studio online classes
- Complimentary use of mats, yoga & pilates props
- Complimentary access to shower facilities, including towel & filtered water
- No sign up fee!
- Taren, A. A., Gianaros, P. J., Greco, C. M., Lindsay, E. K., Fairgrieve, A., Brown, K. W., Rosen, R. K., Ferris, J. L., Julson, E., Marsland, A. L., Bursley, J. K., Ramsburg, J., & Creswell, J. D. (2015). Mindfulness meditation training alters stress-related amygdala resting state functional connectivity: a randomized controlled trial. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 10(12), 1758–1768. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsv066
- Pezet, S., Malcangio, M., & McMahon, S. B. (2002). BDNF: a neuromodulator in nociceptive pathways?. Brain research. Brain research reviews, 40(1-3), 240–249. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0165-0173(02)00206-0.
- American Psychological Association. (2019, October 30). Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/mindfulness/meditation.
- Nishizawa, S., Benkelfat, C., Young, S. N., Leyton, M., Mzengeza, S., de Montigny, C., Blier, P., & Diksic, M. (1997). Differences between males and females in rates of serotonin synthesis in human brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 94(10), 5308–5313. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.94.10.5308
- Hagen, I., Skjelstad, S., & Nayar, U. S. (2021). “I Just Find It Easier to Let Go of Anger”: Reflections on the Ways in Which Yoga Influences How Young People Manage Their Emotions. Frontiers in psychology, 12, 729588. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.72958.
- Francis, A., & Beemer, R.C., (2019). How does yoga reduce stress? Embodied cognition and emotion highlight the influence of the musculoskeletal system. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. Vol 43, 170-175. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2019.01.024.
- Chowdhury, M.R . (2019, April 9). The Neuroscience of Gratitude and Effects on the Brain. Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/.