Yoga is much more than a form of exercise borrowed from the East and applied in our Western culture. It is also more than stretching and balancing. A consistent practice can be key to our psychological and emotional health and healing. Yoga uses a series of poses, or asanas, that connect mind and body to assist us in improving relationships, self confidence and a greater sense of self. It can even calm our nervous system to reduce anxiety, anger and fatigue.
Do Yoga, Be Happy
In the East, the benefits of yoga have been celebrated for thousands of years. But applying it in the West is a different story. Sometimes, people in our country (who may not understand it) categorize yoga as “woo woo” or “out there.” Here is one skeptic’s story about how the mat changed her life.
But there is real science behind yoga. Yoga changes the human brain. And it happens fast. How fast? Sometimes in a single session! Studies have reported gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels in the brain spike after just an hour of doing yoga. Higher GABA levels can decrease anxiety and depression.
Aligning asanas and the breath not only increases flexibility, it enhances mental focus and lowers stress. A long-term practice yields real biochemical changes and improves physical and mental health by reducing anger, anxiety and fatigue.
Yoga and Mental Health
According to yoga teacher and licensed psychotherapist Ashley Turner, yoga is a psychology. “The whole practice helps us work with the nature of the mind, the nature of being human, how emotions live in our bodies, how they affect our behavior and our minds.”
The five mental health benefits she sees are:
- Switches us from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system, or flight-or-fight mode into rest-and-digest.
- Builds a strong sense of self through confidence.
- Improves romantic relationships through greater compassion and unconditional love.
- Puts us in touch with our shadows.
- Helps us untangle family issues.
Asanas for Releasing Trauma
Author and yogi Colleen Saidman Yee (wife of yoga pioneer Rodney Yee, who is credited with making yoga popular here in the West during the 1990s) has used yoga to overcome a difficult upbringing in Indiana — addiction to heroin, a couple of divorces, and injuries from a bad car accident as a teenager.
In her book Yoga for Life: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom, she shares 7 poses that can help release trauma. They do this by helping to gain freedom from the imprints and obstructions held in the body related to trauma.
- Bound Angle pose
- Pond pose
- Upward Facing Dog pose
- Lion pose
- Pyramid pose
- Mountain pose
- Headstand pose