Or Why Mindfulness in Yoga is Key to our Emotional Health
Whole Wellness Therapy understands that any successful approach to mental health must be holistic to succeed. One of our core techniques is acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which works to radically change our relationship with our emotions. What makes ACT successful for treating many mental health conditions, including trauma, is its use of mindfulness. Yoga itself can be a meditative and mindful practice, as the yogic asanas (postures) and focus on breath work not only allow us to get better in touch with our bodies, but provide an excellent starting place for us to better understand our own minds. Yoga allows us to create an open dialogue with our bodies. That is, when we get “in the zone” during yoga, it allows us to be mindful of our perceptions of the world around us, something that our practice works to develop with our own clients. In fact, yoga has been implemented as a part of mental health interventions to great success (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768208/).
Ways that Yoga Helps Our Mental Health:
1. Calming effect/stress reduction
Often we let our mental struggles snowball out of control because we feel something is wrong, but immediately say “Oh, I don’t have the time to deal with that.” We distract ourselves with work, or anything that we can come up with (ever cleaned your house specifically to not have to stop and think about an issue you were having?).
Yoga gives us a moment to stop, relax and be open to any ideas or concerns we have about ourselves. By stopping our stress for even a short amount of time we see some significant benefits to our body and mind. Creating space is key to addressing a problem that we feel is strangling us, and yoga can be a way to make that space.
2. Increase awareness, get in touch with one's body
Again our therapeutic philosophy is to become aware of the negative feeling/thought, drop the struggle with it (i.e. realize we can not control what thoughts and emotions show up), and move toward acceptance by making room for the thought/feeling. Though it is a very successful technique for managing our mental health struggles, it isn’t always easy to do because it is an unnatural for us to think this way—our brains are wired to keep us safe, and all throughout the day we are in this problem solving mode, focusing on overcoming our struggles. This can make it seem like we don’t have time for acceptance, but just like anything else this is a skill that can be developed with intention and practice. Yoga allows us to build up our mindfulness abilities. When you feel your breath or pulse in yoga you are building bodily awareness. Grounding techniques that I teach for anxiety and trauma also are based on building this bodily awareness. When you have any meditative habits, you build your mental awareness whether you realize it or not. Further, yoga
3. Increasing attention span
Being able to commit to radically changing how one sees oneself and one's world is a major undertaking. It requires a lot of energy and attention, many patients that come to me find it difficult to stay alone with their own thoughts without being distracted, while many of those who practice yoga/mindfulness are more apt to find and stick with their personal mindfulness goals. Dedication and attention is important for any therapy.
4. Acceptance and adaptability
Often when we seek therapy we are in the midst of a life transition, and many of us find it difficult to adapt. Yoga has been shown to increase our resilience and adaptability to new situations. In part, because it helps foster and build a sense of acceptance of our own body and mind.
5. A sense of security
Often throughout the day we can feel out of control. Yoga gives us a space to explore our ideas of control through our physical body. “How can I control my breath to reach this pose? How can I control my mind to not give up and hold this for the time required (especially true for Yin Yoga). Further, one study showed that yoga can help to decrease PTSD symptoms (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32160072/).
Whatever your reasons for starting yoga, it is clear that it can greatly augment both your physical and mental health. If you're still struggling and need help, however, contact us today to get started.