This month fitness trainer Monique Craft spoke to Women’s Health Magazine about her experience with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the initial shame she felt from being on medication. This article really resonated with me as I did suffer from anxiety shortly after the birth of my first daughter Sahara. Like Monique, I too found exercise to be my saviour. Monique found training, yoga and surfing to be her ‘medication’ and it got me thinking of the importance of including a wellness ritual into our lifestyle that takes care of your physical and mental wellbeing.
Yoga is a wonderful example of what can happen when a meditative practice and physical activity combine. For the body, yoga has the ability to improve our flexibility, balance, energy levels and even the way in which our body deals with pain as well as toning and strengthening the limbs.
If those physical benefits aren’t appealing enough, a daily yoga practise can have some overwhelmingly positive (and surprising) psychological benefits for your overall state of wellbeing.
Here are just 5 of the mental benefits of a regular yoga practise.
We often hear about how meditation plays a key role in the way we feel and experience gratitude and mindfulness. Mindfulness is the headspace we achieve by remaining aware and present, acknowledging our thoughts, our feelings and the space we’re in. Remaining mindful allows us to feel gratitude for the life we live and react positively, calmly and thoughtfully in times of stress.
Meditation is touted as the best way to achieve a state of mindfulness however, for many, traditional meditation is difficult to ease into or simply unappealing. For those hoping to lead a more mindful existence but who prefer to keep their body moving, yoga is the perfect compromise. During yoga, we are encouraged to focus on our breath and let it guide us through each movement. This ensures we are both aware of our body and focused on the present moment throughout- two essentials for any mindful practise.
Unlike many group fitness classes, yoga gives you the tools you need to continue your practise at home. Yoga is non-judgemental and non-competitive. In yoga, there is no such thing as “perfection.” Even yoga instructors who have trained for years work to constantly teach themselves new skills, as the difference between a “good” and a “bad” practise only comes down to how you feel afterwards. The knowledge that you can train for years, even decades, and still feel compelled to learn more instills great patience in those who engage in a yoga practise. Yoga itself teaches great patience as well as reinforcing that in life we should only ever try to better ourselves, rather than competing with those who surround us.
As above, even the most experienced yogis work to constantly add to and evolve their daily yoga practise. Just as yoga teaches us patience, it gives us a purpose and a sense of ambition to learn more, move our bodies in ways we’d never imagined and set ourselves goals- both physical and mental. For people who don’t consider themselves to be “goal oriented,” yoga allows them to work towards an aim, gives them a sense of purpose beyond their work and home lives and allows them to feel part of a community that extends far beyond the walls of the yoga studio.
Beyond our physical ability, the ancient spiritual practice of yoga teaches us that the true purpose of yoga is to reach optimum physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing- with “optimum” taking on a different meaning for each individual.
4. Memory and concentration
While your yoga instructor will always be there to guide you through your practise, they also want to provide you with the tools you need to work through your own yoga practise at home. In order to reap the benefits of a daily practise, at-home or otherwise, we need to concentrate and work to commit each pose to memory. Increasing our ability to concentrate and improving our memory aids with more than our yoga practise- it allows us to focus at work, concentrate in social situations and remain open to opportunities to learn.
5. Mental Health and Mood
When we practise yoga, our body releases a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid, which works to suppress anxiety within the body- so a daily yoga practise really can lead to a happier mind.
Beyond mood, studies by Harvard University have shown that yoga can work to ease both depression and anxiety be helping to regulate your stress response system by lowering your blood pressure and heart rate. When we learn to relax into our yoga practise, we’re able to lower our cortisol (stress hormone) levels and become less reactive to stressful situations.
Want to add Yoga to your wellness ritual? Make sure you check out our range of beautiful yoga mats that will help you on your way.