When we think of treating mental illness, the first port of call is typically medication. But what if medication either isn’t enough, or actually yields more negative effects than positive effects? I’m not saying yoga is the be all and end all, but yoga may be something that may help naturally ease those negative symptoms associated with so many mental health problems that we see today.
Calm your worries
Our brains are programmed to make us worry. Think about it – we have evolved as a species to survive. And to survive, what we needed to do was anticipate danger and look for all the possible detrimental outcomes. This is a good thing, because it helped the human race get to where we are today.
But now, we don’t need to be on the lookout for things that might actually hurt or kill us, however this part of our brain exists, and it always wants something to be scared of, or worry about.
And naturally, our ‘survival’ is linked more and more to our social status. So, our brain makes us worry about things such as what people think of us, what we look like, or what people might say about us.
Unlike our functional worry back in the day of whether something was coming to eat us, worrying about these social aspects of life actually get us nowhere, and sometimes make things worse. So it’s important that we learn how to overcome these thoughts, and ultimately live a calmer, stress-free life.
Yoga is just one way we can learn to manage these irrational and unnecessary feelings of anxiety. So much so, that yoga is now sometimes being prescribed as a complementary therapy by psychiatrists! One study investigated what happened to women’s levels of depression, anxiety and stress after only twelve hatha yoga sessions (more on hatha yoga here).
The study found that yoga significantly reduced levels of depression, anxiety and stress and so they concluded that yoga could be used as a complementary medicine.
And boost your mood
Happiness is something you cultivate, not something that comes from anyone or anything else. So, I’m not saying that yoga will make you happier. I’m saying that the art of taking time for yourself, and giving yourself space and investing in something bigger than yourself, can make you feel happier.
I think it’s also about respecting and honouring yourself enough to allow this. Self love is a huge buzz word in the personal development community at the moment – and there’s reason for it.
Taking time for yourself and practicing yoga has been scientifically proven to decrease rates of depression. In a study of 32 people with moderate or severe clinical depression, it was found that engaging in either high-dose or low-dose yoga significantly reduced rates of depression.
Now this is not to dismiss the power of clinical treatments with long-standing evidence bases, such as anti-depressant medication, or psychological therapies. But yoga provides an alternative, and provides a natural way of alleviating some of those depressive symptoms, potentially without the need for medication.
If you are someone who doesn’t necessarily suffer from clinical depression, but you do want to feel more balanced and happy at times, yoga may simply boost your mood and leave you feeling a bit better off.
You can handle more than you think…
Sometimes, when moving through various asanas (poses), you will be encouraged to stay in the pose, even if it feels uncomfortable. The idea is that you can work with your breath to find stillness and balance. It may feel like you are stretching yourself beyond your known limits, but this is okay.
You are encouraged to be aware of the sensation, bring all of your energy to it, and breathe through it. When we look at the sensation without judgement, overcoming the voice in our head telling us ‘this hurts, this needs to stop’, we learn to accept the sensation, and accept the experience for what it is.
Now, the idea of this isn’t just to increase your flexibility, the idea is that this inadvertently has an effect on your mindset, and how you may begin to approach problems in your life.
When you go about your daily life, and something unpleasant happens, whether than be an emotion or an event, we learn that we can accept this experience for what it is. We learn that whatever we are feeling, we can observe and not judge, and in doing so we are more equipped to handle it.
Accept that little voice in your head
Often we all have a little voice in our minds telling us how we think things should be, how the world should look. And when it doesn’t, this little voice gets mad. It may scream and shout at you to change something, to quit, to get out of the situation you’re in. Through yoga, we learnt to accept and observe what this voice is telling us, as we are moving through and holding uncomfortable poses.
We overcome this voice telling us to quit, and we continue holding our pose, or moving through our vinyasa. We learn that we don’t need to be scared of, or avoid this voice. And we certainly don’t always have to do what it tells us.
Essentially what the little voice is, is fear, insecurity, pain or hurt. And I suppose we all have this within us, to varying degrees. But we can take control of our minds back, and we learn through yoga, that we don’t let this voice rule us.
Try it for yourself
Now it’s up to you! You have all the information at your fingertips, but information without action is pointless. You can choose what you now do with this – and conduct your own experience on the effect of yoga in your life! I hope this article has shared more clarity on the potential yoga has at calming our nerves, boosting our mood, and building up our resilience to tackle anything that comes our way.
All the best