Yoga for Mental Health

These days there’s a yoga studio on every corner; hot yoga, power yoga, restorative yoga… the list goes on and on. You may already know that yoga has many health benefits, but did you know that yoga is more than just physical exercise?

You might think that yoga is all about postures that turn your body into a pretzel, but the poses, or asanas are just one part of practicing yoga. Remember, they call it practicing yoga for a reason, no one is perfect at yoga, but you will get better with practice. And NO you don’t have to be flexible to do yoga, you can do yoga sitting in a chair!

Yoga is actually a very holistic exercise, there are benefits for the body, mind, and spirit. Asanas, the yoga poses, are just one of the 8 components of yoga. The other 7 components are yama, niyama, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi – but don’t be scared of these Sanskrit words, there’s no test at the end!

So how can you use yoga to improve your mental health? Let’s focus on 3 of the 8 yoga components; Asansas (poses), pranayma (breathing) and dhyana (meditation).   Every time you do a yoga pose, you are actually combining the pose with breathing and meditation, all at once!

When you get into a yoga pose your body moves certain muscles, organs, tendons, ligaments, fascia, veins, arteries… let’s just say lots of body parts, and this exercise is good for your physical body. You also breathe during the yoga pose, moving oxygen into your body and carbon dioxide out of your body, which is important for your muscles, organs, tendons, brain… you get the idea.

So you can see the benefits for your body, but what about your mind? In yoga, you use your mind for meditation, which is just a fancy way of saying that you make your mind quiet and calm – doesn’t that sound nice! When you first start practicing yoga your mind is usually busy remembering how to get into the posture, stay balanced, and keep breathing, but eventually, you can make your mind quiet and calm even when you’re balancing on one foot!

Research shows that the combination of poses, breathing, and meditation in yoga have benefits for kids who have anxiety, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, trauma, and depression. The even better news is that with proper instruction, yoga is a very safe treatment that improves concentration, decreases stress, increases self esteem, improves social interaction, improves academics, helps with emotional control, improves memory, is calming, increases circulation, improves neurotransmitter function and regulates hormones. Whew! That’s incredible!

The good news doesn’t stop there, kids of all ages and abilities can get involved with yoga. You can do yoga if you’re 2 or 102,  if you’re tall or short, if you’re skinny or overweight, and all shapes, sizes, and ages in between.  You can do yoga in a chair, in a hospital bed, in a classroom, or on a soccer field, the possibilities are nearly limitless.

So now that you’re convinced, where do you start? You can try out yoga in the comfort of your own home by picking up a DVD from your local library or searching for videos online. There are even yoga classes on Hulu, Netflix and Prime. You can also contact local yoga studios to see if they offer classes for children or classes that welcome children.

If you’re looking for yoga to address a specific mental health condition you can schedule a one-on-one appointment with Wildflower Holistic Psychiatry, LLC. Laura J. Abels is trained as a instructor in Yoga and Mindfulness for Children by ChildLight Yoga and can tailor a yoga practice specifically for your child to address symptoms of anxiety, depression, ADHD, trauma, or other mental heath concerns.  Call 234.208.5772 or e-mail to schedule an appointment today.

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