International Day of Yoga 2021: The varied mental health benefits

Whenever we think of yoga, the first image that we may get are people performing some really flexible and difficult poses. Almost, making us tell ourselves, “Hey, this is not meant for me!” However, it’s important to understand that yoga is not a technique or some exercise.

Yoga, in a broad sense, is a way of life. It is derived from a Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’ that means to bind, join, attach and yoke, to direct and concentrate one’s attention on, to use, and apply. Yoga is a lifestyle in itself. It provides certain practical guidelines that are inclusive of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being.

It is well-established that mind and body are connected. What we think and feel influence our body, and what we do and eat influence our mind. For instance, an individual taking a walk or engaging in exercise is caring for their body. These tend to release endorphins, which are also known as ‘happy hormones’ making the person feel good and productive.

Similarly, someone who feels good may want to engage in positive activities like eating healthy and taking care of hygiene. On the other side, we see a lot of physical problems, which are either caused or increased by stress. Various skin problems such as psoriasis, hives and acne or some gastro-intestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome are seen to increase due to stress.

Yoga when used in a therapeutic format is called Yoga Therapy. As per the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), Yoga Therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress towards improved health and well-being through the application of the teachings and practices of yoga. It uses yoga postures, breathing exercises, meditation and guided imagery to improve mental and physical health.

The benefits of yoga for mental health:

1. Calming effect: The asanas and breathing techniques help become more calm, relaxed and reduce agitation in a lot of mental health conditions.

2. Increasing awareness: Yoga practices increase awareness of oneself and of one’s surroundings. As a patient begins to be aware of the most basic physical sensations as heartbeat, pulse and so on it becomes easier to increase awareness of the surroundings and other people.

3. Increasing attention span: Certain practices in yoga such as Tratak and meditation help increase one’s attention span. This is especially helpful for a lot of mental health conditions.

4. Acceptance and adaptability: One of the challenges in rehabilitating individuals with mental illness is that even if they are adequately rehabilitated in their homes, the environment there may be unhealthy, which may result into they getting a relapse. Ideas of acceptance and adaptability are a part of yoga counselling that eases the transition.

Research also supports the same. A study done in 2016 by Amarnath, Nagendra and Deshpande suggest that by practicing yoga there is a significant improvement in positive mood and decrease in negative mood.

(The writer is Psychologist and Outreach Associate, Mpower – The Foundation)

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