Yoga for Stress & Mental Health

Yoga for StressI met a lady recently who said that her husband loved it when she went to yoga.  He told her, “You always come back a much nicer and calmer person after the class!”  The practice of yoga can help to unlock the blocks and emotional disturbances in our life, often associated with loss of confidence, anxiety, depression, nervous disorders and stress. Coming to a weekly, or twice weekly class, gives us the time and space to reflect on our lives and also shows us a more peaceful way of being.  Yoga for stress relief is one of its commonest uses.

The practice of physical yoga postures, breathing techniques and relaxation actually starts the process of “detoxing” the body of stress.  We hold our tension in our muscles and our posture is often a tell-tale sign of our state of mind. For example, someone with a collapsed chest and rounded shoulders may have depression or lack of confidence or simply be fearful of experiencing life, due to past experiences and their ways of coping with them.  Someone who is a shallow breather, who feels their muscles aching more than others or who’s eyes won’t relax is often someone with anxiety or unreleased anger or frustration.  They tend to rush into their postures and be impatient when doing relaxation postures.

Over time, the practice of yoga postures helps people to come back to their true nature, peace.  We get glimpses of it from time to time, moments of clarity when all our problems, worries and habitual clinging on to life are let go of, and we are simply just in the moment, on our mats.  The idea is then to take this feeling of groundedness into our everyday lives and learn to live a little more in balance.  We learn to create the state of mind that can help us to change the way we perceive life’s stresses and strains, the way we deal with them and to help us move more freely through them.

A skilled teacher can help individual students through the process of change with specific postures and techniques tailored to alleviate our more negative feelings and to enhance positive feelings.  Very broadly, and obviously these postures need to be modified to suit all levels of physical ability and experience also, back bending or chest opening poses are beneficial for depression and anxiety; inverted postures such as headstands, shoulderstands are good for combating fearfulness and lack of confidence; forward bends are very good for emotional stress and fatigue; breathing techniques can be applied for a wide range of stress disorders and twisting poses are a great way to release the physical blocks we create in our bodies when we hold ourselves in tension.

Yoga can also help those who have gone through serious trauma, drug or alcohol addiction and many offenders in prison practice yoga to help them rehabilitate back into society, to come to terms with their path they have created and to start the process of change.  A carefully balanced programme of postures and relaxation will guide students to maintaining emotional strength and stability and to releasing gently and slowly many of the emotional disturbances and habits associated with their conditions and life choices.

BKS Iyengar says of yoga & the mind:

“The primary aim of yoga is to restore the mind to simplicity and peace, and free it from confusion and distress. This sense of calm comes from the practice of yogic asanas and pranayama. Unlike other forms of exercise which strain muscles and bones, yoga gently rejuvenates the body. By restoring the body, yoga frees the mind from the negative feelings caused by the fast pace of modern life. The practice of yoga fills up the reservoirs of hope and optimism within you. It helps you overcome all obstacles on the path to perfect health and spiritual contentment. It is a rebirth.”