How Yoga Can Strengthen Your Mental Health

It feels like every year more and more people gush about the benefits of yoga. Whether it’s yoga for weight loss, yoga for digestion, or even yoga for skin care, everyone who practices yoga regularly will talk about how it physically tones their bodies, heals their ailments, and helps their muscles feel more relaxed. But yoga is much more than simply moving from pose to pose and loosening up your muscles.

Yoga has been linked (both by scientists and practitioners) to a better mental headspace and connection to your body as a whole. If you’re looking to make your mental health a focus going into the new year (and you should!), picking up yoga is a simple and effective option. All you need is a quiet space, a yoga mat, and a willingness to learn. Here are some mental health benefits you can receive from adding yoga to your lifestyle: 

Increases Body Awareness 

How the individual parts of your body all work together—often referred to as “proprioception” in scientific circles—is a big part of any yoga practice. Understanding how each part of your body, from your fingers to your toes, connect and work in tandem helps you form a better understanding of your own body. You’ll be able to trust your movements more, be mindful of where your body is, and connect your physical body with your mind and emotional state. 

Helpful poses: Mountain pose, king pigeon pose, corpse pose

Reduces Muscle Inflammation

Your body’s mental and physical state are closely linked—incorporating yoga, an activity that addresses both states  at the same time can help reduce strain throughout your body.

One of the main culprits of physical pain today that leads to mental strain is muscle tension. The change to a sedentary lifestyle and sitting in front of a computer all day leads to physical pain like spinal compression and joint inflammation. Stretching your body out with yoga is a great way to decompress your spine, help decrease muscle strain and inflammation, and rebalance your mental and emotional levels.

Helpful poses: Cat-cow, overhead stretch, prayer stretch.

Sharpens Attention and Concentration 

If you’ve ever taken your yoga practice out of your living room and into a studio, you’ll usually feel a different level of concentration and intensity within a group. While some yoga practices focus on letting your mind relax, others focus on sharpening one’s attention and concentration through more difficult poses. 

By concentrating all of your mental energy on flowing from one move to another and having correct posture and body alignment, your brain starts to relax. It turns off the creation of adrenalin and lets your mind focus on what’s right in front of it instead of stressful matters outside of the class. 

Helpful poses: Eagle pose, warrior III, half moon pose.

Calms Your Central Nervous System

A lot of people have an overactive fight or flight response. High heart rates, blood pressure, cortisol levels, and muscle tension all begin to negatively impact your body if you’re in this state for too long and too often. Regular yoga practice will train your mind to slow down and calm your fight or flight response. Regaining that state of balance in your central nervous system will help your mind realize you’re in a safe environment, and realign your mental health. 

Helpful poses: Supported child’s pose, bound angle pose, waterfall pose.

Reduces Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression have slowly risen around the world, causing a mental health crisis. When practicing yoga, you automatically focus your mental state on the present—forcing yourself to forget about anxieties about the future or depressive thoughts about the past. Many studies have found that adding yoga to one’s routine helps balance their emotional state and decrease feelings of anxiety and depression over time.

Helpful poses: yoga ball stretches, controlled breathing, supported bridge

Good Discomfort vs. Bad Discomfort

When people talk about emotional, mental, and physical growth, they often say you have to feel discomfort in order to grow. But it’s important to remember that not everything has to be uncomfortable to be effective. Yoga is one of those things that shouldn’t feel too uncomfortable.

There is good discomfort and bad discomfort. You can feel good discomfort when you’re stretching a muscle a little more than usual—but bad discomfort is when you’re fighting against pain. Make sure not to overextend or strain yourself when practicing yoga. That will only hurt your body and mental state. 

With proper and regular practice, yoga is a great way to take care of your physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. Get out (or stay in) and try it today!

Natasha Ramirez

Natasha is an avid writer, storyteller, and dog-lover. Her work has carried her from the bustle of New York at Inc. Magazine to the Santa Fe deserts at Outside Magazine. She enjoys writing about family-focused and community-centered stories.