Does Yoga Really Help Mental Illness?
Everyone’s mental health deserves some TLC, and yoga can be a great addition to your lifestyle to provide that. But if you’re struggling with your mental illness, it’s possible that your therapist has suggested adding yoga to your wellness plan. Most forms of exercise provide benefits for mental illness by releasing endorphins and calming your nervous and immune systems, but the combination of movement, mindfulness, and meditation that a yoga practice cultivates provides unique relief.
One of the most frustrating things about mental illness, especially depression, is that it can ruin your concentration and put you in a fog. Balancing poses, like tree pose, require patience and concentration, helping us learn to focus on the task at hand, while breath work helps us to remain calm and ignore distractions. Whether you’re trying to focus on your recovery, career, or studies, through a simple yoga practice you can strengthen these skills.
Often times our struggle with mental illness can come accompanied by some nasty addictions or addictive behavior. If you’re also combating an addiction, whether it be to sugar, an unhealthy relationship, or drugs, yoga can help you cope. Sometimes when we’re feeling triggered, the best thing to do is something that will distract us. Yoga requires and encourages full immersion in the moment. It’s not easy, but putting your all into a yoga class can help you move beyond your urge to indulge your addictive patterns. Make standing plans with someone to attend classes or watch a video online every day. This way you have a friend gently holding you accountable.
A Sense of Community
The symptoms of mental illness combined with social stigmas can leave us feeling alienated when we’re struggling. Sometimes just going out in public can feel like a triumph, so if you’ve managed to get yourself to a yoga class, this is the first step. Watching other people on the mat moving in unison, but experiencing their own journeys is truly a bonding experience. Yoga encourages us to understand ourselves as a part of the human community. As our physical practice is ending we bow to each other and say namaste, which means “the divine in me bows to the divine in you.” We literally end each class by affirming our connection to one another.
Stress & Anxiety Relief
With dozens of major corporations now encouraging their employees to try yoga and meditation, it’s no secret that yoga is a brilliant remedy for stress and anxiety. Through the physical practice of yoga we are able to recognize and release the tension we hold in our muscles. This is a huge relief when you’re trying to fall asleep. Another way yoga helps to relieve anxiety is through the focus on the breath. Our breath is like a built in panic button. The breath and nervous system share an interrelated relationship; anxiety can trigger shallow breaths and vice versa. The silver lining being that breathing can also calm our nervous system. If you suffer from anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, or just need help channeling away your daily stress, breath work can be a simple, free, and effective tool in your recovery.
Mental illness thrives in confusion and illusion. Sometimes we get so caught up in our anxiety, insecurities, and unproductive thoughts that it’s impossible to see anything outside of ourselves. If we lack perspective on our situation, it’s difficult to talk ourselves out of dark places. By helping us feel our connection to the world and recognize the vulnerabilities of others, yoga grants us the ability to gain more perspective on ourselves and our situation. Yoga often encourages us to recognize the suffering of others; this shows us that we aren’t alone in our struggles. The mindfulness and sense of peace cultivated through yoga and meditation helps us to examine our thoughts, actions, and selves from a more detached perspective, which allows us to see things more clearly.
Once you really delve into your yoga practice, you might feel like a fog is lifting. As you feel more connected to the people around you and to the human journey in general, feelings of alienation and loneliness start to feel less intimidating. A yoga practice is a free, lifelong tool you can take with you anywhere to better manage and understand yourself. Yoga can help you make significant steps with your mental illness, but stay committed to your recovery and don’t make any adjustments to your medication without first speaking with your psychiatrist.