Updated: Nov 13, 2020
When I went to my first yoga class (not really knowing what to expect), I really enjoyed practicing the different poses. But what made me come back week after week, was the feel-good, happy, content feeling afterwards, as if I had been on a mini-holiday. Yoga soon became a much-cherished way of looking after both my body and my state of mind.
This year, World Mental Health Day (10 October) comes at a time, when everybody has been affected in some way by the Covid-19 pandemic. There are many challenges we have to face: A change in our daily routines, the way we work, our financial circumstances, the ability to meet others and socialise, maybe the loss of a loved one, and many other aspects. Research shows that since the beginning of the pandemic, levels of anxiety and depression in the population have risen, and younger people seem to be particularly affected. For this reason, the World Health Organisation is asking governments to invest in mental health.
How to invest into your mental health
As individuals we can invest in our mental health, too. Just as we look after our physical health, there are simple things we can do to look after our mental health.
The Mental Health Foundation has published a free mental health booklet based on current research findings. This guide lists 10 steps to help us look after our mental health:
talking about our feelings
keeping in touch
asking for help
taking a break
doing something we are good at
accepting who we are, and
caring for others.
The five points of yoga
These mental health recommendations are not dissimilar to traditional yoga teachings. Yoga has five core components:
Proper Exercise (asana)
Proper Breathing (pranayama)
Proper Relaxation (yoga nidra)
Lifestyle and Nutrition (yamas and niyamas)
Positive Thinking & Meditation (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana)
The importance of physical exercise (and that’s the main thing you’ll do in a yoga class) cannot be underestimated. Exercise not only keeps our bodies fit and healthy, exercising also lifts our mood and helps us balance our energy levels. NHS physical activity guidelines for adults recommend at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity every week plus a minimum of two sessions of strength training for major muscle groups and joints.
Sometimes people think of yoga as a means of increasing flexibility (or they think yoga isn’t for them because they are "not flexible enough") but yoga involves all aspects of fitness and can help you get stronger, too.
Yoga for the mind
The benefits of meditation - another important yoga practice - are well-researched. Poor mental health affects the way we think, often resulting in distorted thoughts. These distorted thoughts can cause or fuel distressing emotions. The good news is that it is possible to change our thoughts through meditation in such a way that they are more compassionate, more constructive, and more helpful. Yoga teachings encourage us to nurture ourselves though self-acceptance, self-compassion and self-discipline. The ‘yoga of the mind’ is the perhaps much-overlooked twin of the ‘yoga of the body’.
The word ‘yoga’ derives its name from the Sanskrit word ‘yoke’ – to join. Practising yoga brings together body, mind, and self. Thus, it offers a holistic framework for self-help and self-development. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that research into the health benefits of yoga has shown that yoga practitioners smoke less, eat more fruit and vegetables, sleep better, report greater interpersonal relationships and have fewer physical and mental health problems.
Ultimately, we have to find our own solutions to whatever challenges we are facing. If you think yoga could help you with that, don’t be shy and give it a try.
Online live yoga classes and pre-recorded videos are available at www.yogavita.co.uk.
“Yoga is the cultivation of attention. What we attend to and the attitude with which we attend greatly influences how we experience ourselves and our life.” (Bernie Clark)