Yoga for better Mental Health

If one is looking to improve one’s mental health and overall sense of wellbeing, a focus on deep breathing and gentle stretching through the practice of yoga is very helpful.
Representational Picture
Representational Picture

The corona virus pandemic has indeed taken a toll on people, communities, even cities and countries as a whole, upending all normal in life, damaging economies and jobs, besides burdening healthcare workers. While physically, life as we knew it, came to a standstill for people all over the world, disturbing scenarios like the lockdown period proved to be stressful on the mind as well.

Although with the phased unlock, places are slowly reopening in our country, there are still some regions that are under some kind of restrictive lockdown. Since March, 2020, when the lockdown was first imposed, it changed the daily routine for all in three main ways: First, restriction of physical movement out of the home; second, maintaining social distancing when outside the home; and third, reduced availability of most public services, sparing only the essential ones. This sudden and drastic alteration in the daily routine caused many people to be stranded in boarding houses and rental apartments, thousands of people without work and plenty of people far from their loved ones.

At a time when regular social interactions such as meeting with friends and relatives at home or outside are entirely prohibited, the mental functioning of the brain does tend to get affected, whether we like to admit it or not. Human beings are essentially social animals, who seek constant interaction, attention, in addition to physical and emotional bonding. When opportunities for such associations are completely lacking, stress levels invariably go up, with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and negative feelings such as fear, nervousness, and despair arising in people of all ages. However, inculcating self-discipline in adults and children in every household, coupled with motivating messages, go a long way in despondent times like these, to help keep spirits up and ensure the balanced functioning of the mind.

If one is looking to improve one’s mental health and overall sense of wellbeing, a focus on deep breathing and gentle stretching through the practice of yoga is very helpful. Yoga is considered one of the oldest forms of exercise and although there are many different styles, from gentle to rigorous, yoga practice generally involves stretching, breathing and a period of deep relaxation or mediation. Many studies – and the number is growing – since the early 1970s through till the present day, suggest that yoga can have a positive outcome for people managing symptoms of depression, anxiety or stress, among other benefits. In fact, Harvard Medical School believes that there is growing evidence that yoga practice is a relatively low risk, high-benefit approach to improving overall health including the mental health. In it physical form, Yoga is an exercise that involves different body poses, breathing techniques and meditation, the regular practice of which helps in relieving stress, lowering anxiety levels, decreasing depression, improving sleep quality and enhancing quality of life. Yoga is thought to achieve these benefits in several ways:

As an exercise, it naturally produces serotonin, also known as the happy chemical because it contributes to feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Serotonin in the brain is a natural mood stabilizer and has been associated with helping regulate anxiety and stress.

Regular yoga practice teaches deep focus and mindful breathing, two important elements in helping in relieving depression. Participants can better focus on the present, clear their mind and strengthen the mind-body connect.

Mental endurance and physical stamina are tested through holding postures through extended breaths. This increases endurance, strength and flexibility.

Often, doctors will recommend that you try partaking in physical activities. They also recommend meditation and dietary changes. Yoga incorporates two of the above three in just one activity. A common side-effect of disorders like anxiety, depression and bipolar is a lack of patience. This leads to uncontrolled angry outbursts. Yoga incorporates numerous breathing activities known as pranayama which help clear your body and mind. These exercises will improve your patience and sense of inner balance and help prevent angry outbursts. Balance between the mind and the body is important to make life beautiful, no matter what comes in one’s way; one is capable enough to turn it into something beautiful and worth it. For this purpose one needs to have a healthy mind and a body, everything else our skill, our knowledge, our education, our degrees are secondary. If one can handle one’s body and mind and work with a balanced approach, one will feel like one is ready to face everything that comes his way. One can start with some of the yoga asanas to balance one’s mind and emotions and work on his or her overall wellbeing of both body and mind. Once one starts with the yoga asanas one cannot help experiencing all the beneficial outcomes.

Calms your mind: One of the main reasons that medical expert suggest their patients to practice yoga asanas because yoga asanas include breathing exercises and correct postures which help to calm your mind and body. Yoga poses can also help to deal with mental health issues like panic attacks and anxiety attacks.

Increases Focus: People who are suffering from ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) should practice yoga poses. Yoga poses can help people with ADHD disorder to be able to focus more and to relax and centre the body at the same time. Yoga poses can help people to enhance their focus and attention capabilities.

Yoga improves your mood: Do you know that when you exercise your brain release healthy brain chemicals like dopamine and endorphins, these are happy hormones. Therefore, it is good to exercise because this helps to deal with depression and stress. Yoga asanas help you to balance your mood, which helps you to see more clarity while making a decision.

Boosts your confidence: Many people do not feel confident because of stress, anxiety and depression. If you practice yoga asanas, you can deal with these issues and this helps you to boost your confidence. Practicing yoga asanas on a daily basis helps to centre your body and develop it slowly. Also, deep breathing yoga asanas calm your mind and help you to get rid of self-doubt and bring clarity.

Improves your patience level: When a person suffers from depression, stress and anxiety, the chances of that person losing their temper and getting angry in a situation where it does not even matter become common. This can hamper your mental state and your relationships with other people as well. Yoga asanas and Pranayama that include breathing exercises, help you to clear your body and mind.

These asanas are not just about being fit, these yoga poses help improve your mental help and help you to feel more patient and prevent an angry outburst.

Endnote: While yoga is a great way to help manage mental health, it shouldn’t be considered a solution for mental health issues. Use yoga as a supplement to therapy and if required, then medication is the best course of action. Consult your therapist for the best mental health treatment plan for you.

Bhushan Lal Razdan, formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.

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