When people say that they are stressed, others advise them to take up yoga. This advice is not merely given because the people giving the advice feel that yoga has ‘mystical’ powers which are a cure-all for anything to do with mental health and stress issues. There is a physiological basis for why yoga is recommended for these conditions. Take a look.
Proper breathing is a vital part of yoga. This type of breathing is called Ujjayi breathing. The word ujjayi means victorious. So, when coupled with the word ‘breathing’ it means ‘victorious’ breath.
When you perform this type of breathing, you breathe in deeply through your nose. When you exhale, you slightly constrict the back of your throat and push the breath out through closed lips. This is as opposed to Pilates where the exhalations happen with an open mouth.
Medical experts at the University of Michigan say that when you breathe deeply, this sends a signal to your brain and peripheral nervous system that you need to relax. As yoga breathing involves a very specific technique, that requires practice to get right, this requires a lot of concentration to get right. So, when you’re concentrating on your breathing, everything else – besides your breathing – gets put aside. Your mind becomes calmer. Feelings of anxiety disappear.
In Sanskrit, the various positions involved in yoga are called asanas. These were originally incorporated into yoga in order to allow monks – who had been sitting for hours and hours, in a particular position while meditating – the opportunity to stretch their limbs.
Over the years, there have been several yoga styles which have been developed which deviate from the original stretching aspect that yoga asanas originally adopted. Some types of yoga are more cardiovascular in nature, while others incorporate techniques from other disciplines in order to give the participant a great workout.
We carry our stress and anxiety in our muscles. The more anxious we are, the tenser our muscles are. As yoga asanas fundamentally stretch our muscles out, this helps to stretch the tension out from our muscles and so make us feel more relaxed.
A fundamental part of yoga is meditation. This usually happens before a session where class participants chant ‘ohm’. This means everything and then nothing at the same time. It allows us to clear the worries of the day from our minds and focus on the practice of yoga to come.
Many mental health practitioners advise that their patients practise meditation as this gets their minds off of thinking about anxiety-provoking stimuli and focus on the positive. In fact, many successful entrepreneurs and business owners also swear by the power of meditation as it helps them to focus and get clarity.
Yoga is not a silver bullet when it comes to alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression. Many people have reported fantastic results with their practice, but others just can’t connect with yoga. So try it and see – perhaps it could work for you!