At a time when yoga studios are in practically every town, yoga pants have replaced jeans in many women’s daily wardrobes and the variety of classes sounds like a page from “Green Eggs and Ham” (You can practice with a goat! While you float!), it’s easy to forget that yoga is much more than a fitness craze. Yoga is grounding and spiritual, and that foundation can have long-lasting mental health benefits.
Take stress, for instance. The fight-or-flight response can have several different effects on the body, from sweating to an elevated heart rate. All those responses are triggered when the brain perceives stress, so keeping the mind relaxed during a crisis helps you manage stress in a healthier way. Yoga can help relax the body and soothe the mind. Yoga is also good for maintaining a healthy balance in a busy life, which can be helpful when you feel overwhelmed by life’s responsibilities such as work and parenting.
Yoga can also be helpful with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. If your brain is churning with negative thoughts, yoga is a way to calm the chaos by focusing on poses and centering yourself with deep, regulated, cleansing breaths. With a clear mind, it’s easier to adopt a positive outlook.
Another great thing about yoga is that it can be practiced by anyone at any age, which is also important for mental health. For kids stressed out by loads of homework, standardized tests and keeping up with social media, yoga is a good time out from all of that. For people in senior age, exercise is crucial for not only keeping their bodies fit but their minds sharp as well. Yoga is good for maintaining balance–which can help prevent dangerous falls–and it is easily adaptable for aging bodies, with classes such as gentle yoga or even chair yoga.
This kind of mind/body therapy makes yoga a good tool for people coping with serious disease or illness, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and cancer. Some yoga poses can double as stretching exercises for people with chronic pain, helping to restore muscle function as well as flexibility. Again, the spiritual roots of yoga can help these patients on emotional and mental levels, as well as physical.