Yoga as a Form of Mindfulness and Its Effect on Mental Health
“Just do yoga.” – A phrase that might just be all too familiar to anyone who has struggled with their mental health before. Suggestions such as this can be frustrating, as mental health is much more complex than this. So, how could a bit of twisting and breathing help with that?
Yoga is widely known and is practiced by millions worldwide. But it is much more than just complex bodily figures. Mindful Yoga in particular, has been proven to help alleviate symptoms of many mental health disorders. So let me bend your perspective on Yoga.
Yoga: more than overpriced sportswear
The term Yoga derives from the Sanskrit word “Yuj” meaning “union”. As a philosophy it originated in the Indus-Saraswati Valley civilization around 2700 BC, before striking roots and flourishing in India. Often only reduced to a form of exercise in western countries, the philosophy of Yoga includes not only the body but also the breath and mind. The body postures (asanas) are used to prepare the body for the following meditation. The goal of yoga is the unity of body, breath and mind to achieve well-being.
A brief look at Mindfulness
Mindfulness was not invented by apps such as Headspace but is rooted deeply in Buddhist tradition. As a central aspect of meditative training the Buddhist understanding of mindfulness is defined by a strong focus on the body, feelings and thoughts in the present moment, cultivating acceptance, emotional balance, and well-being. A modern concept of mindfulness as a therapeutic practice was developed by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn with his Mindful based stress reduction program (MBSR). Taking inspiration from the Buddhist tradition, it fosters non-judgemental and non-reactive focus on body and mind in the present moment. Next to other studies, one study conducted on Norwegian university students, showed the effectiveness of MBSR, after students reported a decrease in mental distress after the program. MBSR has also been used to support treatment of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression and can even be linked to neurological changes in the brain.
Mindful yoga: “a method to stop thought waves”
Due to its mediative aspect Yoga is part of the MBSR program. It is important to note, however, that not all mindfulness is Yoga and not all Yoga is mindful. Mindful yoga includes mind-body awareness and paying close attention to your thoughts and bodily sensations as you move through your practice. Applying Buddhist mindfulness teachings, it puts the emphasis on observing rather than reacting. Studies show that mindful yoga fosters awareness of yourself and your surroundings and encourages patience and compassion for yourself and others. It also helps accept external circumstances and is linked to a higher distress tolerance.
How Yoga helps with my mental health
Apart from increasing my strength and flexibility, Yoga has become a stable rock I hold onto, when waves of anxiety overcome me. It allows me to focus on my body and breath and let go of internal and external distractions. I believe, Yoga is a celebration of what the body and mind are capable of, while encouraging patience and self-compassion. The beauty of Yoga is, there is no one way to do yoga, there is a variety of types for everyone. And while it should never be a substitute for professional treatment, Yoga can be something you gift yourself and your well-being.
So, roll out your mat; inhale, exhale and let it go.
Author: Svenja Gleich