Most people know about the physical benefits of yoga; increased flexibility, lean and toned muscles, healthier joints, and even stronger bones. But one of the greatest benefits yoga is not one that is easy to see, because it’s not physical.
I turned to yoga almost two years ago as a way to combat stress, anxiety, and high blood pressure. I fell in love with yoga because of how it made me feel. I hate exercising and you’ll rarely see me in a gym, but yoga has never felt like exercising to me. After beginning a regular yoga practice I quickly noticed the physical benefits and found myself with some serious muscles and improved flexibility. Even more quickly, I noticed the mental or psychological benefits. I gained a new perspective on life, learned how to handle stress better, and just became overall more calm and relaxed. I felt like a different person and it was an amazing transition for me.
Let’s take a look at some of the specific ways yoga can help your mind:
Decreases Stress and Anxiety
Yoga helps regulate the body’s stress response system and those benefits continue off the mat as well. The more you practice yoga, the more your body is able to regulate the levels of cortisol in your body during stressful situations. A focus on deep breathing, clearing the mind, and relaxation is responsible for this benefit. Learning how to breathe properly during yoga can translate into learning how to breathe in stressful situations as well as when you just need to relax and calm your mind. Check on this post on Dealing With Stress and Anxiety Naturally to learn how to get the stress-reducing benefits of yoga without even stepping on a mat.
Improves Memory, Focus, and Concentration
Yoga will significantly improve your ability to focus and retain information both on and off the mat. When you practice yoga, you are often learning new bits of information whether it’s a new pose, a new muscle name, or benefits of the particular pose. Additionally, your brain is getting exercise as it works to move and stretch muscles that it may have forgotten about. Many yoga poses are held for extended periods of time. This intentional balancing teaches your brain to focus. In order to effectively balance, your mind must be clear and focused. By learning how to clear your mind in yoga, you will be able to clear out distracting thoughts when working on school, work or other tasks that require your dedicated attention.
Hear me out here, yoga really can make you feel happy. Ever notice how after a yoga class you feel calm, peaceful and happier than you were when you walked in? It’s not just your imagination, yoga actually can and will make you noticeably happier. Exercise in itself boosts endorphins in the brain stimulating those happy thoughts. But on top of that, yoga encourages you to live in the moment. During a yoga class the intention is to let go… which means letting go of stress, distractions, and negative thoughts.
Positive Self Image
So you could probably argue that this is not a mental benefit, but I thought it was worth including. As someone who has struggled with body image issues for all of my life, I know that having a negative self image can drastically impact your mental health. Yoga is all about acceptance, there is no perfect yoga body or look. I will admit, it is hard to not compare yourself to other yogis in the world and start to feel down about how your practice is compared to theirs. But in a yoga class if you keep your focus on your own body and continue to breathe in positive thoughts about your progress and practice, you will start to feel good about yourself. It will take time as everything does, but as you continue your yoga practice, you will begin to be impressed with what your body is capable of.