Becoming a certified yoga instructor opened the gateway to taking better care of myself, not just physically — mentally, as well. I began to practice self care that worked for me. I maintained a positive practice, incorporating vinyasa and restorative yoga, as well as healthier eating habits and ahimsa. I found much of what I had lost along the way on the mat. And my mental health improved. Dramatically.
There is still much to be done in research, but yoga is increasingly becoming a recommended form of integrative approach to a balanced and healthy lifestyle. I plan on becoming certified in yoga therapy and have been taking certificate courses (see Yoga International for more information).
Along the way, I felt better. In fact, well enough to pursue my MSW (Masters in Social Work). Here are a few of the ways that yoga practice has helped my personal mental health:
Mindfulness. Practicing yoga requires focus of the mind and body. Coming into poses, holding asana, and flowing to the next posture are a practice of mindfulness. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy, one learns the skills to be present in the moment. Practicing one activity and being mindful as you go (that is, focusing solely on what you are doing in the moment, rather than multitasking thoughts) is a way to release anxieties, worry thoughts, and help regulate emotions.
Breathing. Along with mindfulness, I have found that awareness of my natural breath, pranayama breathing practice, and meditation have helped with my anxiety and reign in wandering worries. My focus becomes clearer as I pause and focus on my breath (or take a deep breath when I realize I am holding it too long!) and I have noticed that regulating the breath in my yoga practice also helps me regulate and calm my thoughts off the mat.
Consistency. Yoga eventually became a healthy habit for me. I practice regularly, typically in the mornings, and start my day off with a clear head. The habit of practicing yoga creates a healthy schedule. Consistency was something I lacked, especially when I struggled with my mental health. Having a regular routine not only helped me mentally, it also created structure that spilled out to other areas I was struggling with: completing tasks, better sleep hygiene, healthier food choices. Overall, I can say that yoga practice and teacher training helped me learn to become consistent in other areas of my life.
Yoga is not a cure for mental illness. However, yoga practice has been a tool in the kit that helps me alleviate mental health struggles. I have experienced profound differences in my mental state over the past several years and I am in a remission from what I suffered from. I place importance on my social workers, treatment team, family and other supports. I also credit yoga with changing my life for the better.
NOTE: As I do more research, I will seek out information on how yoga positively impacts mental health. Check back for updates and more resources.