How Yoga Can Help With Mental Health

When we think about being healthy the words exercise, fitness, cardio probably come to mind.  Eat organic, go to the gym, walk the dog, even shopping for the gear that will help us look good while we do it.

But there is more to health and fitness than just physical exercise.  Being healthy includes the way you feel and think. Program Development & CEO of College of Therapy Yoga, Lyn Keogh shares how yoga can help with mental health.

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“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” World Health Organisation (WHO) definition of health

My mum used to say that mental health is just the way you think about things.  When I realised she wasn’t joking it made me stop and think.  What is Healthy thinking?   To most of us it is about the way our thoughts make us feel so healthy thinking should make us feel happy, calm and in control.

Yoga is a powerful tool for working the body in a balanced and controlled way, but it also works the mind.  In fact, it is just as much about getting you to notice how you feel and think as it is a physical exercise.

Mindful exercise

When training to be a yoga teacher many years ago, I was told there are only three things that we really can control in life – the way we breathe, the way we move and what we eat (though sometimes I think that one is still up for debate).

Yoga practice is about taking a moment for yourself, a time out from your busy lives and thinking about what your body is actually doing.    When you are on the mat, you are encouraged to be there, really present and focus on how you feel – inside and out.

Modern biomedicine refers to the physical aspect of this as proprioception, the ability to sense where different parts of your body are and how they move.  Sorta like your sixth sense, your ability to know where you are in relation to what is around you.

Yoga is about finding the balance between what your body is actually doing and how you think and feel whilst you are doing it.  I encourage everyone to practice yoga with your eyes open.  Exercising the link between your body and mind is a great reality check and will get you thinking clearly about what you can and can’t do.  That’s healthy thinking.

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Focussing on correct posture, breathing and movement, yoga can be a positive influence on the way our body digests food.  Research now shows a strong link between our belly and our brain with common conditions such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) being considered a “gut-brain disorder”. 1  The health of our gut can have a huge effect on our moods and mental health issues including depression and anxiety.  Regular yoga practice and breathing can work to stimulate your internal organs for correct functionality whilst promote efficient waste control for detoxifying, a key factor in improving digestion and gut health.

With mindful yoga practice we can help maintain healthy thinking and work on keeping our body balanced, healthy and strong at the same time.

Take a moment to Breathe

The concepts of yoga do not have to be rolled up with your mat and only brought out once a week in the studio or gym.  You can get a dose of yoga reality anytime you need it.

Try taking a moment for yourself a couple of times a day. Stop everything and sit up nice and straight.  Take a deep breath in and then when you breathe out, try and relax those tight shoulders. Now close your eyes and take three long, slow breaths.  Feel them all the way down to your toes.

Taking this moment to connect with your breath will give you mind and body a moment to catch up with each other. It will calm your body and slow down your mind.  This good feeling is why so many people are making time to get in a yoga class once or twice a week.

Try making time in your day to simply breathe.

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