We all know that there are innumerable physical benefits of a regular yoga practice. But let’s talk a little bit about the other side of the coin; that is, the impact that yoga has on our mental health and wellbeing.
The link between breath and movement is the key to receiving the majority of mental health benefits that yoga provides us. This deep, full breath that your yoga instructor is always telling you to do? It’s magic. Well actually, it’s science. You see, this sustained deep breathing shifts our nervous systems from a sympathetic state to a parasympathetic one. What does this mean? Well essentially, this takes us from a state of fight-or-flight to a space of deep calm and relaxation. And why do we want to do this? Here’s a few big reasons:
- Helps to counteract any stress-related nervous system imbalances
- Shifting into a parasympathetic state triggers improved immune function, metabolic function and insulin secretion
- Can alleviate some symptoms of depression, hyperactivity disorders and sleep disorders (by drawing us out of the overactive sympathetic nervous system activity that often accompanies these conditions)
Yoga, and the practice of deep breathing that accompanies it, also has a particularly significant impact on anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. Yoga increases and regulates the production of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain. GABA is a chemical involved in the regulation of nerve activity, and people with anxiety typically have low levels of GABA, so a regular yoga practice can not only alleviate symptoms, but help to reduce anxiety disorders as a whole.
So how do you get all these juicy benefits? Get on your mat! The best thing about regular practice is that we not only get to experience all the wonderful benefits listed above, but also, after a while, we start to get used to these shifts in nervous system activity and chemical production. This means that, slowly, old neural pathways in our brain that are wired for stress and imbalance dissolve, and new, healthier pathways are created, meaning improved mental health and well being in the long-term!
See you on the mat!