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How Yoga Can Help Maintain and Improve Your Mental Health
I tried Yoga for the first time when I was 20.
I was never the athletic or sporty type as a child and my exercise routine was non-existent at the time. On top of that I was a heavy smoker. I remember my body was aching really badly after my first Yoga session and it was hard to keep up with the breathing, but I enjoyed the slower movement and how it made me feel mentally and physically during and after the session so I kept going back to class for a few months.
I then practiced Yoga on and off for about 8 years (mainly attending classes in the gym – even some Bikram Yoga!) till I moved to Kent and found a lovely local Yoga studio. I decided to become a member and started going to classes 3-4 times a week trying out different styles of Yoga and immersed myself into learning everything about Yoga.
About a year later, I decided to enrol into Yoga Teacher Training and after completing my training in 2014 and started teaching immediately, which has been an amazing experience!
When I talk to people about Yoga, they often say that they are not flexible enough to start yoga. I was not flexible at all when I started yoga and I wouldn’t call myself a super flexible Yogi even now.
The goal of practicing Yoga is not becoming super flexible or executing an advanced Yoga pose. I don’t see Yoga as just an exercise although Yoga can definitely bring a positive impact on your body physically. Rather, I see Yoga as a tool for mental wellbeing.
The word Yoga, derived from Sanskrit and can be translated in English as, to join, connect and unite. It’s a tool for mind-body connection. I always encourage people to start Yoga not just for the physical benefits but for their overall health & wellbeing.
Practicing Yoga has helped me navigate challenging times better, improved my moods, increased my confidence and I was even able to quit smoking after 13 years!
But don’t just take my words for it!
Here are top 3 science-backed benefits of how Yoga can help maintain and improve your mental wellbeing.
1. It can help reduce stress
Several studies have found that practicing regular Yoga can help lower cortisol levels which is known as a stress hormone.
A study (University of Chile) has found that practicing yoga for at least 3 months may lower cortisol and perceived stress. You can read more about the study here.
There is another interesting study conducted to find the association of yoga practice with periodontal disease by measuring serum cortisol levels.
2. It can help reduce anxiety & depression
A 2010 study (Boston University) has found that 12 weeks of regular Yoga practice could help increase Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels in the brain and can help reduce anxiety. The low levels of GABA have been linked with depression and anxiety disorders. You can read more about the study here.
In addition, the deep mindful breathing during Yoga practice can help move us from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system (or from fight or flight to rest and digest) which decreases your heart rate and brings you to a calmer relaxed state.
3. It can help improve sleep quality
Anxiety, depression and stress are all common contributors to sleep problems. We now know that practicing regular Yoga can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression and that means incorporating regular Yoga practice in your daily life can also improve your sleep quality.
In this interesting study in 2005, 69 people were randomly allocated to 3 groups – Yoga, herbal preparation and no intervention. The study found that the Yoga group fell asleep faster, slept longer and felt more well-rested in the morning than the other groups. You can read more about the study here.
Another study showed that a specific sequence of yoga might be effective in reducing insomnia and menopausal symptoms.