Yoga has been claimed to have many benefits to the physical body, but the benefits to the mind are what hooked me on this practice. I have been battling anxiety since I was a small child and was more recently diagnosed as Bipolar. My mental health is fairly well managed today, but it wasn’t always this way.
I’ve been practicing yoga for almost 10 years now and without yoga I don’t believe I’d be alive today. Before my Bipolar diagnoses I had no idea what was going on in my mind and had little control of my moods. I would spend sometimes months in a deep depression. 90% of suicides are committed by people suffering from mental illness*, and I was almost part of this statistic.
But yoga became my calm within the storm. Yoga kept me going and has been key to my recovery. Today I am now a life coach and yoga teacher and feel more at peace than ever. I recommend yoga to anyone dealing with chronic stress or anyone wanting to improve their mental health.
Here are 4 ways yoga has helped me on my mental health journey:
Yoga Taught Me How to Breathe
Anyone dealing with anxiety, panic, or even a high stress situation has been given the advice to just “breathe”. This can sound overly simple and to someone in the midst of a deep freak out this wisdom can be brushed off and rejected. How can something so simple be in any way effective at helping someone to calm down?
I used to believe that my panic was larger than a breath could fix until yoga taught me how to breathe. Yoga brought more awareness to my breath and I learned that in a panic my breath will be shorter and shallower. By making an exhale longer than an inhale you can stimulate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system bringing calm to your whole self. I also learned that a technique called square breathing can help pull me out of a panic attack. I needed to learn how to breathe in order for breath to bring me calmness.
Yoga Helps Me Feel My Emotions Through Movement
When I move, I feel. This has become my mantra since yoga entered my life. I have a hard time expressing what is going on inside my mind and if I let it stay inside for too long I’ll blow up. But on the mat I can use movement to express my feelings and can utilize different styles of yoga to match my mood. If I’m angry then Vinyasa is my go-to since it’s a more vigorous pace. If I’m sad or anxious then Yin is my practice of choice. If I’m having trouble verbalizing what is in my mind then a Yoga Nidra session is what I need.
Yoga also connects the movement to the breath so I am able to refocus my attention and bring my mind to the present. Too often people are worrying and stressing over the past and the future. Focusing on the present allows us to be more mindful. Mindfulness allows me to use logic to fight anxious thoughts because I know what is going on in this moment, instead of allowing my mind to wander to all the “what-if’s” floating around.
Yoga Gave Me a Safe Space
Environment is so important in mood management. If you are surrounded by chaos, your mind tends to be in a chaotic state. My yoga mat is my place of calm and my escape from worry. My mind now associates my mat with a healing, loving practice and I feel the effects almost instantly after stepping on to it now.
Practicing in a studio brings an elevated sense of calm into the equation. The studio is created to feel serene and is more removed from any stimulus that may be creating stress for you.
Yoga Made Me Commit to Something & Force Me Out of My Shell
Last year I decided I wanted to elevate my yoga practice and teach this healing modality to other people, so I signed up for a 200-hour yoga teacher training. Shortly after I began my training was when I was diagnosed as Bipolar. I was experiencing another low mood swing and struggled to get out of bed some days. But I had my training sessions and classes that I had to attend. Despite how low my mood would swing I had made a commitment (financially and to myself) that motivated me to leave my apartment and interact with people.
This training surrounded me with people who cared about what was going on in my mind and gave me a support system when I needed it most. I also learned more about meditation during this training. The commitment I made forced me to function, the support system gave me permission to feel, and the meditation allowed me to accept my diagnosis.
Yoga taught me to breathe, allows me to feel my feelings and feel safe doing so, and forces me to function when I’m having down days. These are only the mental benefits I have experienced. I highly encourage anyone seeking calm, in or out of your mind, to give a regular yoga practice a shot.