In this article we examine the attitude to maintaining health and well-being and look at the benefits of yoga for mental health. Perhaps you are guilty of neglecting your health at some point? It is not always a priority for us. Many people segregate different aspects of health care, assigning different priorities dependent on their own attitudes.
Some people avoid going to see their GP at all costs, preferring to ride out an ailment. Others will ignore back pain or muscle injury, never considering physiotherapy or a similar treatment as a valid investment in their own health care.
Maintaining good mental health is challenging.
Despite the increased interest in practices such as mindfulness and meditation in recent years, there is still a stigma attached to mental health. Commonly people maintain a deep-seated attitude that the admittance of suffering stress indicates weakness.
There are of course financial implications to maintaining your own health, however attitude is a significant stumbling block.
The System as a Whole
To effectively maintain well-being, it is vital to understand that our bodies are an entire system. There is no mind and body, there is just our being. The mind is one of several functioning organs within the system. Each facet of that system interacts and impacts on the others.
In addition, people are all predisposed to different ailments. However, those ailments often do not become apparent until that part of the system is put under strain. Individuals also have different levels of tolerance to strain. This again is not a failing of any sort, it merely indicates the wondrous diversity of us as a species.
Our About Page includes a quote from the eminent spiritual master Amit Ray who said that; “Yoga is not a religion. It is a science, science of well-being, science of youthfulness, science of integrating body, mind, and soul.”
Yoga is a science of integrating mind, body and soul
Yoga dates back thousands of years. Our preservation of this holistic practice indicates that there is an appreciation of its multiple and integrated benefits. Yoga is commonly practiced to improve strength, flexibility and to achieve weight loss. The other benefits, and those that often inspire dedication to this practice, can be an added and unexpected bonus.
Yoga for Mental Heath – What We Know
Despite the evidence, there is a reluctance by a proportion of the medical profession to admit to the benefits of what are sometimes labelled as alternative therapies. Yet there have been countless studies on the positive impact of yoga for mental health and the diversity of benefits may be surprising. Scientific research studies date back to the early 20th century. The results of those studies have contributed to a wealth of research confirming the benefits of yoga for mental health.
A 2013 study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry noted that research had revealed that ‘some of the most consistent and reproducible effects of yoga practice include stress reduction, emotion regulation, improved mood and well-being, [and] improved cognitive functioning’.
Studies have been carried out on candidates with psychological disorders of varying severity including:
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
- addictive behaviours
- attention-deficit disorders
- social anxiety disorders
- post-natal depression
Practicing yoga is known to relieve stress, alleviate depression and combat anxiety. It also improves mood and promotes mental discipline enhancing our ability to concentrate. Yoga employs breathing and mindfulness practices similar to meditation which allow mental rest and recovery.
Stress Hormones – Fight or Flight?
Studies have also revealed that practicing yoga regularly reduces production of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is the bodies main stress hormone and helps control our mood, motivation and fear. It is most associated with our ‘fight or flight’ instinct. Also it is a vital component of our system and regulates many aspects including:
- use of nutrients
- blood pressure
- blood sugar
- sleep/ wake cycle
- energy levels
However prolonged stress, which promotes excessive production of stress hormones, can lead to the following as well as several other significant health concerns:
- anxiety and depression
- problems with memory
- concentration problems
- sleep disorders
- weight gain
When Will I Feel the Benefits?
While the benefits of yoga on bodily strength and fitness take time and dedication to observe, the benefits of yoga on mental health can be felt instantly. Lasting and long-term gains obviously require a regular and sustained commitment, but you really do feel better after just one session.
A study published in 2012 titled The Acute Effects of Yoga on Executive Function revealed that a single session of yoga had a positive impact on the speed and accuracy of working memory. However, the benefits were short term relative to one single session, thus promoting the need for regular and sustained yoga practice.
The Final Word on Yoga For Mental Health
It is a personal choice as a free-thinking individual to decide how to look after yourself. However, surely it is a responsibility, as a useful member of society, to care for yourself to the best of your ability. We owe it to our neighbours, friends, families and ourselves to be the best we can be.
By employing a holistic approach to healthcare you give yourself the best chance of maintaining your well-being and promoting your own happiness and contentment. Rather than waiting for the need to instigate a reactionary treatment, why not make a preemptive strike! Start your yoga journey today and feel the benefits of practicing yoga for mental health.