Yoga's popularity has exponentially grown in the past decade and it is safe to say that yoga makes people happy or happier. Whether it is hot yoga, yoga on music, slow yoga, fast yoga, yoga on the beach or yoga in India, yoga works as long as you don't injure yourself. Today I will not get into how yoga affects people's bodies, rather how it affects their mind and why it can tremendously help people's mental well being.
My first yoga class was in high school on a special event day. I thought it was kind of funny and I actually don't remember much of it besides that I fell asleep in Savasana and woke up as happy as can be. Life went on until I did another yoga class. My next one was soon after I moved to Los Angeles and a few years later I became a teacher, then a few years after that, I became an advocate for Mental Health.
The secret to yoga is to try it and do it more than once. You must try many to find the right style and the right teachers. You will hear a lot of things on your quest but since today we focus mainly on the mental benefits of yoga, I can tell you with certitude that in terms of mental well- being one style isn't better than another and a teacher isn't better than another. It's about what's best for you. Everyone has an opinion according to what works for them and it does not mean it will nor should work for you. Yoga is highly customizable and as long as it makes someone happy I don't care if it is naked yoga or yoga on a surf board with your dog.
So, why does yoga make people so happy?
Yoga means "to unite". It's the union of you. It's creating a healthy connection between the mind and body using the breath and then eventually creating a healthy connection between you and the world around you.
Many mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety are extremely isolating and make people who suffer feel out of touch not only with the world, but with their own body, and unable to control let alone stop those thoughts that push their mind deeper into the illness.
I'm not claiming that yoga cures mental illness but it can help manage it. The idea behind yoga is to experience the body in order to control the mind and stop the out of control spiraling thoughts before one falls too deep in mental despair.
Once you have found a style and teachers that you like and have been practicing regularly (I said regularly not excessively), you will become more aware of your body, how it responds to certain poses on certain days and most importantly how your mind responds to it all. Slowly, using your breath you will be able to control the constant fluctuation of the mind throughout a class and eventually throughout your day.
I believe that happiness is when your body and mind are in the state of equilibrium. Don't make happiness a goal or define it by perfection because perfection does not exist. Your body will experience aches and pains and your mind will always experience some ups and downs. What yoga does is it helps you manage and achieve balance so you can prevent physical injuries, and mental melt downs. Happiness is not an achievement but a journey and yoga can be part of that journey.
If you are still nervous about attending a yoga class here are a few things you can do at home to make your first class a bit easier. You can also do this when you don't have time to go to a class.
Yoga Tips to Try on your Own
Pranayama techniques are beneficial in treating a range of stress related disorder. It improves the autonomic functions and It reduces the signs of oxidative stress in the body. Practicing pranayama can assist in steady mind, strong will power and sound judgement.
- Sit comfortably on the floor, pillow cross legged or on a chair with your feet firmly on the floor.
- Start with 10 rounds with breathing through the left nostril and 10 rounds breathing with the right.
- Repeat as many time as you want.
1) Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Benefits: Down Dog combats anxiety and energizes the body which helps with depression.
- Lie on your stomach with your palms by the sides of your chest with your fingers well spread.
- Come onto your hands and knees.
- Turn the toes under, and exhale as you raise your buttocks high in the air, moving your thighs up and back. Keep your elbows straight as you lift your buttocks up and release the crown of your head onto the support. The action of the arms and legs serves to elongate your spine and release your head.
- Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, breathing deeply.
2) Seated Forward Bend to Plow Pose (Paschimottanasana to Halasana)
Benefits: Brings relief from despondency or anxiety, and energizes the body. Skip Plow Pose if you have neck problems.
- Sit with your legs stretched out in front of you. Take a full, deep breath. Inhale and lift up through your sternum and head, making your spine slightly concave.
- Exhale and extend your torso over your legs.
- Then, come out of the forward bend, curling your back and pulling your knees up, and then roll backward into Plow.
- Raise your hands overhead to meet your feet. If you feel neck strain, support your back with your hands.
- Go back and forth between the two poses 10 times.
3) Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
Benefits: Opens the chest, lifts the spirits, and invigorates the body.
- Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent, feet on the floor.
- Inhale, lift your pelvis slightly off the floor, and slide your hands, palms down, below your buttocks. Then rest your buttocks on the backs of your hands.
- Inhale and press your elbows firmly against the floor and lift your upper torso towards the sky. Then release your head back towards the floor.
- Stay for 15 to 30 seconds, breathing smoothly.
- With an exhalation lower your torso and head to the floor.
- Draw your thighs up into your belly and squeeze.
4) Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Benefits: Releases spinal muscles after backbends and calms your nerves.
- Kneel on the floor with your big toes touching and your knees slightly wider than your hips.
- Bend forward and stretch your arms and trunk forward.
- Rest your head on the floor or a blanket.