Before I start, I will admit to being relatively new to the yoga game. As of this writing, I’ve only been to five one-hour classes. But I do have over 31 hours of yoga completed on the Daily Yoga app (highly recommend it!). So I’ve done enough to be able to feel the benefits.
For me, yoga combines two things that I find incredibly beneficial to mental health: exercise and meditation.
Not only that, but it’s something that I initially sucked at. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not super good now; I can do a few poses quite well, but I still watch in awe at some of the things seasoned pros can do.
But doing something that you’re not very good at is brilliant. It’s humbling, it takes you out of your comfort zone and challenges you to get better at something that you find difficult. These days we give up too early if we don’t see instant results, but part of feeling satisfied is the struggle within the journey we’ve faced. I could’ve given up early on with this blog, but here I am, still writing away. Do I occasionally feel like packing it in? Of course I do. Quite often. But I keep going. And that’s what I do with yoga.
Yoga and Depression
Yoga is extremely helpful in alleviating the symptoms of depression. Don’t just take my word for it, research even shows that people who participated in a 8-week hatha yoga plan saw statistically and clinically significant reductions in depression severity. Yoga also modulates perceived stress and anxiety by slowing down rapid breathing and heart rates, lowering high blood pressure, and increasing heart rate variability.
There probably would be more research available about yoga if it wasn’t for the fact that technically it’s a hard thing to research. Due to the fact you can’t do a double-blind, placebo study, it will always lack validity in proving that it was yoga that caused the benefits. Personally, I just feel that people need to try it for themselves and see if it works.
From the Pros
Want more than just my opinion and facts from research? Then here’s what Hot Yoga Health, a dedicated hot yoga studio in Newport, Wales has to say on yoga and the mind:
“Mind and body are inextricably linked. By practising yoga regularly you give attention to your body and your breath and in doing so your mind. By focusing on the instruction of the teacher you are able to quieten the mind and be present in the now. From this, you will get to know your body and how it responds to your emotions and moods. You can better identify certain triggers by having a raised awareness of your body. As for quieting the mind of those negative spiralling thoughts, yoga helps reprogram the brain - it teaches you how to breathe deeply, it teaches you how to manage those anxious thoughts - to observe them and then allow them to pass without judgement. There are many different styles of yoga to suit all individuals. Hot Yoga is an invigorating, dynamic sequence which helps burn off nervous energy and focus the mind.”
I can sit here and dig up as much research as I can find, get as many instructors views as I can, and in the end, it won’t matter. All I know is that it’s incredibly beneficial to me, and I believe it can be the same for you. It all starts with you just giving it a go. If you’re worried about being terrible at it, don’t be! There’s a good chance you’re not going to be very good, but that’s ok. Life is all about challenging ourselves and discovering new things that we can improve on.
If you want other suggestions to try to go alongside this, then feel free to check out the Toolkit I’ve made. It was originally aimed more at postnatal depression, but has since morphed into ideas to help with depression in general.