In the West, yoga is sometimes portrayed as simply a form of light exercise and stretching. While performing yoga postures (asanas) can certainly help to stretch the body and bring about flexibility, yoga is about far more than that.
Yoga, in its entirety, is a very in-depth lifestyle that can contribute to overall well-being by enhancing physical and mental health.
In this post, we’re going to talk about the profound influence that yoga can have on your mental health. For simplicity’s sake, I will focus on the mental health benefits of performing asanas, but I will also share important knowledge about yoga as a lifestyle.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga
The first thing to be aware of are the 8 limbs, or complementary aspects, of the yogic tradition. These are:
- Yama, or abstinence, a practice involving the development of control over biological impulses and cravings.
- Niyama, or observances, which are basically positive habits (do’s instead of don’ts) such as self-study, control of mind, and purity.
- Asana, or yoga postures, which we are familiar with in the West.
- Pranayama, or breath control, maximizing the absorption of vital life force (prana).
- Dharana, or concentration, the honing of our ability to focus and concentrate the mind.
- Dhyana, or contemplation, allowing one to contemplate whatever it is that they are able to focus upon with dharana.
- Samadhi, or absorption, a state of unity in which the meditator, the object of meditation, and the meditative process become one.
As you can see, a devout practitioner of yoga will develop a profoundly healthy state of mind. They will be pure of thought, have no problem concentrating, develop positive habits, and be aware of the unity of all things.
However, trying to tackle all 8 limbs of the yogic tradition at once can be extremely difficult. For this reason, I’ll discuss the mental health benefits of the yoga limb we are most familiar with: asana.
Asanas – Yoga Mental Health Benefits
In addition to enhancing flexibility and mobility, performing asanas on a regular basis can enhance our mental health in a number of different ways.
- Focusing on a posture allows us to develop our ability to concentrate, and could even be considered useful for people struggling with conditions labeled as ADD.
- Yoga enhances blood flow throughout the body and brain, leading to enhanced cognitive ability. It can help enhance memory formation and can make it easier to think clearly.
- Yoga has been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety, and consistent practice can enhance overall quality of life as a result.
- Yoga is fantastic for helping to improve self-esteem and can help people understand themselves, their strengths, and their limitations. By learning about the capabilities of their body, people can develop and sustain a healthier relationship with themselves.
- Yoga can help us process trauma stored in the body. It is understood that the body stores emotional information, both positive and negative. Performing asanas can be useful for pointing out where traumatic memories are stored in the body, and we can begin processing and removing these emotional barriers.
As you can see, yoga is a fantastic system for helping people enhance mental and physical health. The whole system of yoga is designed to purify the mind and body – however, a regular practice of even one limb of the yogic tradition (asanas) can provide numerous mental health benefits.
Written by Nigel Ford
Reviewed by Dr. Jayant Lokhande, MD (Botanical Drugs), MBA (Biotechnology)