How Yoga Helps Mental Health: A Comprehensive Guide

Yoga, which is a miraculous practice and a deep-rooted philosophy that India has presented to the world means “integration” in Sanskrit. The purpose of yoga is to ensure that the person finds peace by providing spiritual and physical balance. The person practicing yoga begins to know himself, and as he gets to know himself and his body in-depth, he catches the harmony of the universe. The basic philosophy of yoga is based on this principle. In this way, the person begins to have a deep love for every living thing and the world. Yoga has both physical and mental benefits. So how do you think yoga helps mental health?

Yoga, which can be defined as the integration of mind, body, and soul, provides freedom from mental problems and succeeds in bringing magnificent beauties to our lives. As you discover yourself on your journey while doing yoga, your mental and spiritual side gets stronger. This awareness study, which balances and strengthens our body, mind, and breath, continues to benefit our mental health with its benefits known for hundreds of years. Yoga lies in the solution of many mental problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, psychomotor disorders, stress, depression, and anxiety.

Mental Benefits of Yoga

The first texts about yoga in history are the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Here he talks about three parts of the mind; memory, mind, and sense of self. Patanjali defines yoga as the control of thought waves in the mind. When the fluctuations and storms in the mind stop, one sees his true self. If the mind cannot be taken under control, the self becomes filled with thought currents and becomes blurred. The universal and the essence diverge.

Learning to concentrate and control the mind creates concentration. Concentration gained strengthens knowledge, comprehension ability, and memory. The three parts of our mind, memory, mind, and sense of self, are in balance thanks to our power of concentration and leads us to spiritual enlightenment. This is among the health benefits of yoga that attracts us. Meditation is the primary way to achieve mind control.

We cannot argue that yoga, which we associate with peace, consists of physical benefits. At the same time, yoga, known for its mental activities, is also very important for human psychology. So maybe the peace you are looking for is on a yoga mat. Yoga regulates the adrenal glands and adrenaline secretion. While this situation reduces stress, it makes the person calmer. People who do not include stress will overcome the worries and bad energy they have in their lives.

We all love nature and the places that rest us. With the effect of yoga meditation, it makes us realize that inner peace is actually within us. In addition, you can relieve the tiredness of a stressful day by applying yoga exercises that have a relaxing effect. Yoga also increases the ability to think and evaluate as it activates brain cells and saves you from a stressful life.

Yoga, a deep-rooted philosophy and lifestyle dating back to India, is indispensable to people, especially today with its mental benefits. Yoga, which enables the mind and body to be filled with vital energy by working in harmony, helps us cope with the stress of daily life while keeping us in shape. Yoga makes it easier for us to deal with the mental and physical problems we experience in our lives, which are reshaped by developing technology, especially today. It can be one of our greatest helpers in dealing with daily troubles, psychological problems, and mental crises.

It allows us to purify our soul and body. Yoga, which aims to provide spiritual and physical peace of mind, has become an indispensable practice and lifestyle for centuries. When practicing yoga regularly, its mental benefits begin to be reflected in daily life. Your relationships and your perspective on yourself are changing, and you are starting to feel the love within you again. In addition to its mental benefits, you can stay in shape with the yoga practice you choose.

Types of Meditation That Are Good for Mental Health

  • Breath meditation

Our breath is ‘Prana’ life energy. It is the bridge between the physical body and the mind-body. With the help of a cushion, you can sit cross-legged in meditation or stand in the most comfortable position if you wish. We begin our practice by closing our eyes slowly and focusing our attention on our breath. First, completely empty your lungs by exhaling, breathe in for up to 4 counts.

Hold your breath by counting to 4. Exhale by counting to 4. Wait until 4 counts. Repeat this meditation sequence 7 times. Your breath should be uninterrupted, slow, soft. As you practice, you will experience that your coarse breathing becomes thinner. With breath meditation, you can find an answer to the question of what are the mental benefits of yoga and experience it in person.

  • Mindfulness meditation

Conscious awareness is the art of living by observing what is happening around us and being aware of every moment. Without isolating ourselves from our environment; We can practice this practice at work, at school, on the road, at home, anywhere during the day. With the chaos of the modern age, we are divided into many parts during the day. And we live on autopilot, unaware of most of the actions we take. If we are aware of every breath we take and look at ourselves and our surroundings with an open mind, it is possible to get deeper in practice over time.

  • Mantra meditation

Mantra is a Sanskrit word meaning “protection of the mind”. They are words or phrases that are repeated loudly and in a certain rhythm. The sounds made while repeating the mantra help the person to reach a higher consciousness. Because sound is vibration and everything in the universe vibrates. With regular repeated mantra meditation, the mind is calmed and mind control is achieved. As the stress level decreases, it becomes easier to get rid of anxiety. Thus, the health benefits of yoga are experienced. The most basic meditation mantra is ‘OM’. It is believed to be the sound of the universe and the beginning. Another preferred mantra is ‘SO HUM’; It is said to make all wishes and intentions come true. You can also listen to mantra music if you wish.

As you can see, yoga, which is a good life guide, affects both us and everyone around us in a positive way. Physical and mental satisfaction also brings spiritual satisfaction with it. Whoever seizes peace and balance within himself realizes that he is connected with the universe. He approaches every living creature in the universe with respect and gratitude. Yoga teaches us to accept and love ourselves as we are. It guides us in our relationships with ourselves and our environment. Healthier relationships bring peace, success, and happiness. This balance and harmony that we have achieved spiritually are undoubtedly among the mental benefits of yoga.

Yoga: A Mental Development Tool

I will not talk about the history of yoga much, but it is said that it first appeared in East Asia and was used as a mental development tool. In fact, some groups who wanted yoga to remain a sacred, spiritual tool opposed the use of yoga for medical purposes or for fitness and slimming in the early 1900s. Yoga aims to provide mental and physical integrity, health, and inner harmony. Its techniques include meditation, breathing exercises, some physical movements and postures, and non-aerobic stretching exercises.

Let’s talk about how our bodies react to stress, without getting too deep. When faced with a psychological or physical threat (it may be an angry boss, or a bus coming on you), the “sympathetic nervous system” called SNS and glands called HPA (hypothalamic pituitary adrenal) start to work in our body. The heartbeat accelerates, certain hormones are produced and the body enters a state called “Escape or Fight”. This situation is very useful if there is a threat that requires us to escape or fight (such as getting out of the bus), it helps us survive.

But if the situation that worries us is something that we cannot escape or fight like a nervous boss (I doubt that punching your boss will have positive consequences), our body being in this state of stress for a long time can have very negative health consequences. Now let’s get to what yoga does to our body. During yoga, the body kind of “slows down”. HPA and SNS run slower for a while. Due to the stresses of daily life, the rhythm of our body, which is constantly in a state of “Flight or War”, improves and we feel physical and psychological comfort. This protects and heals us against stress-related illnesses, which surprisingly many illnesses are said to be caused by stress.

According to an article that compiles many studies on yoga, yoga is not superior to other types of sports and exercise when used as a fitness tool. In other words, although it helps you stay slim and fit, it may not be the most effective way to lose weight. However, when looking at its effects on health, it was found to be either equal or superior. In some of these studies, healthy individuals who do yoga and those who do not have been compared and it has been observed that yoga has a protective function against stress-related diseases. It has also been revealed to have a healing effect on some diseases. Here are some of the diseases that yoga is said to have a protective and healing effect:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Psychosomatic disturbances

The Best Gift for Your Mental Health: Yoga

Perhaps one of the most important pursuits is to find balance, meaning, and a positive mood in life for today’s people, who move at full speed in the routines of life, work pace, and relationships. Yoga, which has been practiced by a wider audience in the western world in the last 30 years, is the answer to this search by opening up space to refresh, calm down and listen to yourself, especially in big city life.

The word meaning of yoga originating from the Vedic philosophical systems, whose roots go back almost 5000 years, is “unity”, “unification”. The state of being here means that the person becomes aware of his / her own existence and the borders and walls between him/herself are removed. For this, yoga has a structure that rises on 8 basic steps; Each of these steps begins to awaken in life as you practice yoga. Although yoga is reduced as a sport or a way of thinking today, yoga masters describe it as a science, an art of life, and a spiritual practice.

Today, the majority of the crowds that fill the yoga studios choose yoga to increase the breathing capacity and to strengthen and balance the body with a pleasant practice, while soothing the mind a little. Unlike similar systems, yoga offers the individual the opportunity to follow their orientation, movement, and feel as close as the body. Thus, the scientific process is working again, while the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, brain waves and heartbeat slow down, and the person gets closer to himself by experiencing awareness.

Regular yoga practice significantly reduces stress, brings calmness and clarity to the mind. The person starts to handle difficult situations more easily and becomes more aware of his thoughts, reactions, and feelings. Sleep problems and stress-related troubles can be relieved. Emotional awareness that increases with breathing exercises and practice in yoga also begins to balance the person emotionally. With the awakened feelings of wholeness and unity and the person feels more at the center, a way of relaxation opens in his relationship with himself and life.

It is possible to take yoga classes in groups or as one-on-one private lessons. During the lesson, which lasts for an average of 1 – 1 and a half hours, the person who goes through meditation and mindfulness training and then enter certain physical poses and flows with the safe guidance of the teacher, at the end of the lesson, experiences deep rest and relaxation of about 5-10 minutes. This final rest, the Shavasana, is an indispensable, very valuable step to internalize all the effects of yoga and deepen it in the body. If you too want to get stronger, stretch and open while you are on the path of a little slowness in your fast life, deeper contact with your body, awareness of emotions and thoughts, meet yoga and come alive with this system that renews from the inside out!

Yoga Support in Mental Stress Management

Stress, by its nature, is a complex process formed by emotional or psychological responses to external requests and thoughts about them. It is an observed difficulty in adapting to the changes offered by life. The emotional turmoil that develops with this strain is a tense cyclical experience characterized by the distressed state sometimes accompanied by anxiety, occasionally rising anger, aggression, and depression. The fact that stress can be defined with words such as tension, pressure, strain, and distress also explains its treatment of physiological, psychological, and pathological factors as a compelling and harsh effect on the organism.

As it is known, according to the definition of the World Health Organization, health is a state of complete well-being at physical, emotional, social, and spiritual levels. When evaluated from this point of view, it can be thought that the stress experience represents a fluctuation at the optimum balance level in the body-mind-spirit scale of the individual, in other words, moving away from full well-being. As a matter of fact, it is known that suppressed stress leads to psychosomatic disorders and psychiatric problems. With all of this, an appropriate level of stress is required to live, move, and take action.

Most of the time, the mind and emotions use stress as a motivator. Because stress is a protective reaction, it has a stimulating effect and helps us cope with difficult situations. With this aspect, the type of stress known as “Positive Stress” encourages the individual to use their creativity instead of anxiety while reaching a difficult goal, adding satisfaction and joy to life. “Negative Stress”, which comes into play with excessive accumulation of stress at an unusable level, configures the loss of self-confidence and feelings of inadequacy and can create helplessness, hopelessness, and disappointment.

In the alarm phase, any of the external stimuli that cause stress is perceived as a stressing factor. The person feels that their physical or mental boundaries are being strained and tries to return to a state of equilibrium by avoiding stimulation or struggling. The physiological changes experienced during this phase cloud the confidence that the person can handle the stimulus in question. In the resistance phase, the person tends to counteract the negative effects of the stimulus that causes stress by using their physical and emotional energy.

Effects of Yoga on Mental Stress

Developing skills to cope with the phenomenon of stress, which is involved in many aspects of daily life, becomes possible with the awareness of the elements that create, nurture and develop it, and become stronger with the continuity of the strategies developed. This is the essence of stress management. With the physical and mental techniques of Yoga, it is very easy for individuals to correctly identify the sources of stress in their lives and to reach the awareness of the strategies that make the sustainability of individual balance possible throughout the process. As Sarah Powers expresses, yoga, which is a process that makes the person completely alive and enthusiastically involves them in life, can be understood as all behaviors that develop holistic experiences in the body, heart, and mind.

Stress experiences are known to cause physical wear on the musculoskeletal system. Asanas, which reflect the physicality of yoga, develop strength, endurance, and flexibility in muscles, bones, and joints through ‘Yoga postures’, while the stresses caused by stress experiences in these areas can be reduced and physiological balance and harmony can be restored, as well as effective results in coping with pain. On the other hand, regular practice of Yoga Postures increases the sense of well-being spread throughout the body by regulating both the circulation and digestive and excretory systems. It can be said that the mental change required to continue life stress-free from yoga is based on the integration of breath into movement.

Pranayama which constitutes another application step of the yoga system is an important instrument that strengthens mental calmness and bases the deep bond that the individual will establish with himself. With the help of correct breathing, it is possible to support the heart and lungs, as well as to increase the energy of the body and to maintain the holistic balance. The right breath affects many areas, from the spiritual life of the person to the way he perceives the world, and every breath taken with the right, deep and awareness is the main source of mental calmness and health.

Therefore, observing the breath is prioritized as one of the primary studies of connecting with breath in yoga practices. The sensations that occur while breathing, the sensations created by the air flowing into and out of the body through the nasal passages, the muscle involved in the respiratory process, etc. Observing the changes experienced by the structures with the breath taken and exhaled, and investigating the realization of what is happening in the meantime, is one of the important keys of the breathing journey. Awareness of breath creates a vacuum by freeing attention from thoughts. The only way to develop consciousness, to touch the total consciousness, to be in the here and now, is to be aware of the breath.

While it is aimed to strengthen mental activity in the step called Dharana ‘Concentration’ techniques in the yoga system, Dhayana ‘Meditation’ studies enable the individual to meet with his / her own reality and improve inner awareness. Thus, the ability to connect between their needs and reality gives the person a sense of comfort on an emotional, mental, and spiritual level. Happiness and well-being brought about by knowing oneself adds strength to the holistic being. In summary, the changes highlighted below are observed in those who practice yoga exercises with their structured contents on the basis of stress management;

  • Linking habits resulting from current lifestyle with stress.
  • The distinction of stress factors that suppress personality and negative effects on body, mind, and soul integrity,
  • To create a stable perspective that supports the increase in the quality of life, the ability to set and reach new life goals,
  • The flow of feelings of calmness and tranquility to the integrity of the being, which supports the overcoming of low performance, anxiety, and fear caused by preventive stress
  • The transformation of stress coping skills into lasting experiences.

Mental Effect of Yoga in Bipolar Disorder

Anything that provides anxiety and stress relief benefits in the management of bipolar disorder symptoms. Yoga is also an activity that has such effects. Thanks to yoga, which is thought to contribute to general treatment, it is possible to cope with the physical and emotional symptoms of bipolar disorder. Yoga that is based on meditation controlled left and disciplined movement makes it possible to feel relaxed and revitalized by showing a relaxing effect. Aiming for flexibility and balance, yoga contributes to improving overall physical health.

Getting enough sleep, applying a diet program consisting of nutritious foods, and exercising to gain strength form the basis of a solid body. For a person who does not have problems in terms of general health, bipolar disorder and similar chronic diseases will create fewer problems. Controlling emotions and thoughts through body movements is a powerful experience, the opposite of depression and anxiety. When a person with bipolar disorder feels that they have lost control of their emotions, they can use activities such as yoga to guide their thoughts.

The basic logic of yoga is towards learning self-control strategies. Yoga in general; involves the processes of breathing during meditation by stretching and balancing the body in certain situations. That’s why practicing yoga helps deal with stress. The following types of yoga can be done in bipolar disorder:

  • Hatha yoga: Usually recommended for yoga beginners. It is a calm species. Its main purpose is to teach stress management.
  • Iyengar yoga: It is a relaxing type of yoga.
  • Bikram yoga: Performed in a heated room, also known as hot yoga.
  • Vinyasa Yoga: Also known as Flow. It is a type of yoga that is generally done at a faster pace. For this reason, it can be challenging for beginners.
  • Power yoga: This is a type of Vinyasa yoga. It includes more intense movements.

Along with all these, it is necessary to mention a point that should be emphasized. Yoga is definitely not a substitute for traditional treatments for bipolar disorder. The use of medications prescribed by the doctor should not be interrupted for the treatment of the bipolar disorder, the treatment process of which is lifelong. In addition, it is also possible to benefit from alternative therapy methods with the recommendation of a doctor.

The Effect of Yoga Practice on Brain Waves

In addition to its physical effects, yoga has been popular in recent years due to its stress and anxiety-reducing, mood-enhancing, and well-being properties. Yoga means “reunion”, “unity” as a word; It is a group of practices or disciplines that mainly involve physical movements (asana), special breathing techniques (pranayama), and deep concentration (meditation).

Asana-based practices that come to mind as yoga in Western culture and where physical movement is at the forefront. Asana stands for physical posture and is also considered a form of exercise as it requires active and/or passive participation of muscle groups. Meditation is a practice that involves the deepening of focus and awareness, and there is no dynamic movement other than breathing. Pranayama is a breath-based application that provides respiratory control. It includes inhalations and exhalations at a specific rate and intensity.

Yoga has positive effects on cardiorespiratory health. It has been observed that Surya namaskar (sun salutation) practice reduces resting heart rate and blood pressure in the cardiorespiratory system, and increases cardiorespiratory capacity. Asana-pranayama and meditator cardiorespiratory fitness, well-being, and blood melatonin levels increased compared to baseline; A positive relationship was found between the maximum blood melatonin level at night and the personal wellbeing score.

Yoga has beneficial effects on metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and obesity. Asana and pranayama application applied to type-2 diabetes patients with neuropathy had an improving effect on nerve conduction velocity and glycemic control of individuals. After the yoga practice, the fasting blood glucose, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and triglyceride values ​​decreased and HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels increased compared to the beginning. Yoga has effects on bone as well as cardiac and metabolic effects. Yoga asanas performed by placing loads on bones (especially standing positions) reduce the risk of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women by preventing bone resorption.

In addition to the physical effects listed above, studies have shown that yoga improves the emotional state of people and reduces aggressiveness, emotional distress, and anxiety. After meditation practice, improvement in anxiety symptoms was observed in more than half of the individuals with anxiety. It has been determined that pranayama and meditation practices cause a significant decrease in the anxiety and depression scores of the individuals. Changes in cognitive function are the result of activation and changes in brain neurons. Brain waves are the electrical activity of neurons, indicating voltage changes that occur due to the ionic flow in the brain neurons.

This electrical activity is recorded by “Electro-encephalography (EEG)”. EEG recordings are measured by placing a series of electrodes on the human scalp. EEG measures the voltage fluctuations in ionic flows of neurons in the brain. Electrical activities in the brain are seen as waves or oscillations in the EEG. Brain waves occur when the body is both active and at rest. In addition, brain waves can also be produced with external stimuli. For this purpose, methods such as repetitive trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, transcranial direct current stimulation, and transcranial alternating current stimulation are used, and these methods enable a better understanding of the integrity of the central nervous system.

Brain waves are basically classified as alpha, beta, delta, theta, and gamma waves. Alpha waves are nerve oscillations with a frequency of 8-13 Hz resulting from the synchronic electrical activity of cells in the cortex, occipital lobe, and thalamus parts of the brain. Typically it has large amplitudes. Alpha waves occur when the person is at rest while he is awake and his eyes are closed. Alpha waves disappear when eyes open and sleep. Alpha waves have been associated with a decrease in pain rating, fast and accurate memory, and cognitive performance. Besides cognitive features, alpha waves also affect mood. As a result of the work done; After alpha stimulation, feelings of burnout, anxiety, and fatigue decreased.

Beta waves are nerve oscillations with a frequency of 12-38 Hz that occur when awareness is increased and active concentration is achieved. Beta wave has been associated with academic performance, higher arithmetic computing ability, and increased cognitive skills. Delta waves are high amplitude, 0.5-4.0 Hz frequency nerve oscillations that occur during deep sleep. Theta waves are repetitive, non-focusing, nerve oscillations with a frequency of 4-7 Hz that occur during routine autonomic movements. Theta waves can occur in both the cortex and hippocampal regions of the brain.

Theta activity is defined as a state in which thoughts are absent but consciousness continues. Similar to alpha waves, stimulation of theta waves have reduced anxiety, and it has been shown that theta waves can affect short-term memory and memory formation. Gamma waves are brain oscillations that occur at a frequency of 40-100 Hz. These brain waves occur during conscious attention.

With the loss of these waves, conscious awareness is lost and a deep coma occurs. Although the improvement of yoga practices in cognitive performance has been shown in studies, the mechanisms that provide this improvement have not been clearly elucidated.

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Savaş Ateş

I like meditation and yoga. I read a lot of books about them. I applied them in my daily life. I want to write about my experiences.

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