How Yoga benefits mental health

Research shows that practising yoga can improve your wellbeing. But how exactly does this happen? And what is yoga? Emily Greenfield from Student Minds Cardiff discusses the research behind the relationship between yoga and mental health, dispels common misconceptions about the practice, and explains why it’s worth doing.

Why yoga?

Yoga is an increasingly popular form of exercise which is focused on strength, flexibility and breathing. Yoga is fantastic because it helps keep your mind healthy as well as your body!

How can yoga improve someone’s wellbeing / mental health?

Yoga can improve your well-being as it reduces the effects of stress on the body. By teaching people to take slower, deeper breaths, yoga triggers the body’s relaxation response, helping to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This can help to ease symptoms of conditions such as depression, anxiety and insomnia. Deep breaths also increase the amount of oxygen available to the body. This is beneficial as a lack of oxygen results in sluggishness, fatigue, disorientation, and a loss of concentration and memory.

Do you have to be in good shape to do yoga?

Yoga is suitable for everyone, regardless of fitness level! There are lot of different styles, each having a slightly different pace and emphasis; some styles are more vigorous than others, some focus on flexibility and others focus on breathing and relaxation. The key is finding the style of yoga that suits you; you might have to try a few until you find one that you really enjoy and feel a benefit from!

What misconceptions do people have about yoga, and how do you answer them?

One common misconception is that yoga is only for those who are flexible! Wrong! Flexibility is a consequence of practising yoga not a prerequisite; you will not be expected to execute advanced poses on your first class. Gradually, through regularly practising yoga, your ligaments, tendons and muscles will lengthen, increasing elasticity, enabling you to execute more advanced poses.

It is also often thought that yoga is only for women. Wrong! Yoga is a great practise for both men and women! In fact, historically yoga was almost exclusively practised by men! One reason for this common misconception is that men often think yoga is not a proper workout. However, this isn’t true; yoga builds strength and muscle tone and provides cardiovascular benefits by lowering resting heart rate, increasing endurance and improving oxygen uptake during exercise.

What was the feedback from attendees after the event?

At the yoga event we held, attendees ranged in their level of fitness and experience of yoga. However, regardless of this, everyone enjoyed the practise, and left the event feeling more relaxed than when they came in!

References

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jan/10/yoga-beginners-guide-different-styles

http://www.yogahealthfoundation.org/

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