Top 10 emotional (and mental health) benefits of yoga
And one one level that's true.
And, yoga is part of a holistic body/mind system that was developed in the sub-continent of India over 5,000 years ago and the physical aspect is but one small part.
Far more reaching can be seeing that yoga is a way of life, with deep and profound transformations, and far more important for your overall well-being are the emotional and mental health benefits of yoga.
As well as teaching yoga, I'm a qualified Art Psychotherapist and a business coach and in my other work, I get to learn and explore many aspects of mental and emotional well-being with my clients.
I apply that therapeutic/coaching knowledge to the yoga mat and I see how yoga is a highly effective mindfulness tool, that engages the body to bring about powerful changes to the emotional and mental health of students.
So here I've summarized what I see as the top 10 emotional and mental benefits of a regular Kaiut Yoga practice.
(Disclosure: please note these benefits are from my own personal experience and not to be seen in anyway as evidence to replace any course of treatment from a professional healthcare practitioner)
1. Rest and Relax
2. Switch Gears
When you switch gears from your busy, active stressed out day to day, when you step onto your mat and start consciously breathing at a calm, peaceful and unhurried pace, your breath slows, your heartbeat is slows and you immediately feel better. As Kaiut Yoga is about holding postures over time, and keeping your awareness inwards towards yourself, it is the perfect way to switch gears. Instead of an outward focused outlook and busy pressured schedule, you change your focus to look inside yourself and let go of any sense of time.
3. Staying Present
If you are worried or anxious about something or someone out there in your life means your mind is elsewhere. By being focused on your yoga practice and taking your attention to the present moment you can release all those thoughts. By keeping awareness on your body and engaging with the postures in a focused way your attention is on the here and now. So all that mental stress, and emotional baggage simply falls away.
4. Parasympathetic Nervous System
Emotions are energy in motion. They are associated with an accompanying thought. If you worry or are stressed about your child, your bank statement, your work or your car. That worried thought or those fearful thoughts will signal to your nervous system that there's something "out there" to be afraid of. This will switch on the chemicals that tell you "Be Alert!" "Danger!" which create more stressful emotions. When you do Kaiut yoga regularly, you gain emotional benefits as you are telling your system to relax. You are letting your body know it is safe. And so you deactivate your sympathetic (fight, flight or freeze) nervous system. And as you move over to your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and restore) you will immediately feel the emotions and mental activity change as you relax.
5. Get Better Sleep
The Sleep Health Foundation claims that 1 in 3 people suffer from mild insomnia. If you are not sleeping well, you wake up unrefreshed. You go about your day already tired. You are more likely to be stressed, get anxious, lose your temper or worry about things. This will affect how well you sleep. And so the cycle of poor sleep is established. Going to a Kaiut yoga class and learning how to deeply relax, to find that point between wakefulness and sleepiness gives you more access to a good nights sleep. Being present, you are not worrying about things so that night you are far more likely to sleep better. When your nervous system has had a break and the rest and restore mode activated you will sleep better. And after a good night's sleep you wake up with immediate mental and emotional benefits.
6. Understanding Pain
Pain is one of the greatest distractions to the mind. If you are in pain, your emotional well being is at risk. You feel sorry for yourself, you struggle with relaxing, you can't help but think about the future What is wrong with me? Will this pain get worse? When will it go away? In a Kaiut yoga class one of the emotional benefits of yoga is that you are instructed how to approach pain. You learn to no longer fear it. You are open to explore it and eventually learn how to reduce your emotional response to it over time. Learn the difference between chronic pain that has been accumulating over time and instant pain which is the body's response to injury. Think of the difference between a sore knee that has been aching and complaining for months compared to a burnt finger that you just touched a pan in the oven for example. Kaiut helps with long term chronic pain issues.
7. Emotional Awareness
Although there is no such thing as emotional intelligence, or rather, any studies trying to measure it so far have failed to do so. It's an interesting concept to talk about emotional awareness.
If you are aware of your emotions and feeling really down sometimes? You probably find these saccrine slogans like "Find your bliss", "Ignite your Passion", "Live an inspired life" "Be Happy Don't Worry" annoying and irritating.
Thats your emotional awareness. When you are aware that the state you are in is different from one "out there".
Whenever you have a feeling of sadness, a worry, a feeling of anger come your way, if it doesn't flatten you, and you can take it in your stride, if you can acknowledge that emotion and watch it move through, then you probably have a degree of emotional awareness. Yoga gives you an ability to help you self-regulate your internal state. A key benefit of yoga (especially Kaiut Yoga) is that it gives you time and space to explore the movement of mental and emotional states and watch them release. You can let go of any old holding patterns and free yourself from being stuck in any downward spiral of negative emotions. To feel freedom in your body is to feel it in your mind and emotional centre of your heart.
8. Learn from Mistakes
When you make mistakes in life, depending on what you learnt as a child you may berate yourself. Most adults are adversely programmed and not able to work with mistakes. In Kaiut Yoga you learn how the mind makes mistakes with the body. Forcing the body to do stuff it can't do. Pushing the body to its limits. Feeding the body foods that aren't healthy. Having unhealthy habits like smoking or drinking too much. Distracting the mind by putting the body in front of a TV or Smartphone or Computer for hours. Instead of getting emotionally angry with yourself for having bad habits you cultivate a generous heart. A heart that says - it's alright you just ate all the cookies, binge watched TV, drank too much wine last night it's okay, and let's get on the mat now. The emotional benefit of yoga is that your practice will change you. All you need to do is show up. And not even that....when you fall in love with your practice, showing up will want to happen. And my experience with Kaiut Yoga is people really fall in love with it...
9. Feel Good about You
Do you want to feel depressed, anxious, tired, sad, worried, nervous, irritated, frightened in your life? Or would you rather feel joyous, excited, enthusiastic, engaged and inspired and grateful? Most people will say the latter. "Of course" you say, "Yes, I do want to feel joyful and enthusiastic...but..." and watch your mind come up with the story, the excuse, the reason why your emotions can't change. You will base your excuses on the external environment. The emotional benefit of yoga is that doing it makes you feel good about your self, your internal self - the self that no one or nothing else can touch. When you feel good about yourself your emotions change. When your emotions change you act according to those emotions and you are more likely to do things that are good for you... like yoga ! And so you have the feel-good - feel-better cycle. All it takes is a firm commitment and determined decision. And if you say yes, if you set an intention you can see your yoga practice will take on its own momentum.
10. Learn to be of Service
The final emotional benefit of yoga that I want to share with you is the one that is because it's about service. Its about you benefiting yourself so that you can be in service to the world. To be available to help and support your family, your friends, your children, your grandchildren, your colleagues at work, your clubs or groups, your community... if you are feeling mentally and emotionally well, if you maintain a regular practice and so gain all the emotional and mental benefits of yoga, then you will be available to help and serve others. And as studies show, the more you help others, that happier you feel. The happier you feel the more you can help others.
And just a thought... do you want to be a burden on your family when you are older? Do you want to have them worry about you? Do you want to disturb their lives to take care of you?
No of course not.
The greatest gift you can give your family is your well-being, your health.
And YOU are the one who ultimately is in charge of your own health... feel good about yourself and others, think healthy thoughts, be positive, be of service ... all this will support you to stay well, long into old age. And yoga is the best support you can give yourself along the way
Want to practice yoga@home? consider a membership to Kathy White Yoga so you can get all the emotional benefits of a regular practice from your own home. Find out more about Kathy White Membership here