Yoga for Mental Health
Each of us is unique and our emotional and mental state is also unique. So when someone is struggling to cope with life whether that has been diagnosed as a “mental illness" or not.
It may be because of their childhood, or their life experiences.If these were not positive the disorder the disease that can then manifest in their mind can take over.
The mind can overload itself, or become obsessed with a particular worry, fear, situation or person. When someone is drawn into this cycle and they feel unable to control it the mind grows more and more dominant. Giving someone medication is not addressing the root, the cause of their anxiety.
So why would yoga help someone who is at this point in their lives for whatever reason?
In yoga, the disturbances of the mind are referred to as “vrittis” which literally means ripples like an analogy of an otherwise calm pool that is disturbed by something and the ripples start to move outwards from that central point. Or that our thoughts are like grooves on a record and if one thought keeps coming up it makes a deeper and deeper groove in the record.
That thought gains momentum and grows more powerful and overpowers all the other thoughts a person has.
We often hear the saying “mind over matter" but in the practice of yoga, the paramount goal is to connect to the body, to cultivate the quality of self-enquiry and to learn to respond to what the body can tell us so that we make choices that are right for us. Not to override the mind but to bring some balance back, to help shift us out of our head space and back into our body. It is about finding clarity of thought and bringing about a quietening of the constant chatter in the mind.
Realising that most of our thoughts are about the past or about trying to predict what will happen in the future helps us to understand that we are spending of our time thinking about things we cannot change. This awareness means that we can start to focus on what is happening now, on what really matters, on what is important in our lives.The mind knows nothing about now, about the present moment that is why it is constantly sending us thoughts about the past or about predicting what will happen in the future.
The physical practice of yoga, the poses, teaches us to be able to focus on what is happening from moment to moment. But how does it do that? By using the breath….
We learn how to stop over thinking and analysing everything and concentrate on what we can feel by using the power of our breath. The breath is how we tether the mind, how we reign it in when it wanders off to our usual thoughts. By combining our breath and the poses we create that one pointed focus, we become stronger and more flexible not just in our body but in our mind as well.
The quality of the breath is a reflection of our inner state. Short shallow breaths leave us feeling agitated and panicky. Taking smooth, slow breaths calms our parasympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response of the body). We can then use this technique when faced with challenges and difficult times off our yoga mats.
Relaxing is a skill and many people have either forgotten how to do it naturally without using alcohol or medication or simply do not realise or have forgotten its importance.
When we can learn how to relax our body and our thoughts, to create some space instead of cramming more and more stuff in, we get clearer about who we are and what we stand for.
We understand and appreciate our purpose and what is good about our lives.
This is when we grow, this is when we become stronger and more resilient emotionally and we can be excited about life instead of being fearful.