Yoga for Mental Health: Building Your Inner Strength
November 24, 2023
Just a few years ago, talking about mental health or mental health challenges used to be widely taboo. You could’ve been forgiven for thinking that few people actually experienced any mental health struggles at all. The coronavirus pandemic changed that for many of us. As most people faced at least some difficulty or uncertainty, many started speaking out.
The result has been powerful: it became obvious that struggling with difficult emotions was far more common than many people thought. Plus, as mental health became an acceptable topic of conversation, accessing different types of support also became easier. Practicing yoga has long been known to help build inner strength and increase resilience. But how do you get started, and which asanas are most transformative for your mental health? Read on to learn more.
How Does Yoga Support Mental Health?
If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you may already know that the combination of physical exercises, breathwork, and meditation not only benefits your body but also helps you emotionally and mentally.
Breathing exercises can help you calm your mind when you feel that thoughts are running away with you. Meditation has been proven to help manage conditions like depression and anxiety. Asanas allow you to align physical exercises with your breath.
As you practice yoga regularly, the practice starts building new connections in your brain and strengthening existing ones. Researchers from Harvard University Medical School are pointing to studies that have shown that yoga can elevate brain chemicals associated with better mood.
Meditation, on the other hand, limits the activity in the part of your brain that’s dedicated to emotions. That doesn’t mean you no longer feel happy, angry, or overwhelmed. Your response simply becomes more measured.
What Physiological and Psychological Effects Does Yoga Have on the Body?
To better understand why yoga is as beneficial as it is, it’s important to understand where in our body we cultivate inner strength. We’re able to handle physically and mentally challenging situations thanks to our central nervous system.
This system is made up of two main parts: the sympathetic nervous system activates our fight or flight response when things turn tough. The parasympathetic nervous system is more active when we’re relaxed, allowing us to calm down and soothe our bodies and minds. Practicing yoga regularly trains your parasympathetic nervous system, allowing you to respond to mental and physical challenges more reasonably.
You’re less defensive and effectively build a buffer against stress. This is how your mind becomes more resilient. Rather than racing into decisions and letting emotions spiral out of control, you gain the tools you need to be more receptive.
How does Yoga Improve Mental Focus?
So, how does yoga help you build inner strength and improve mental focus? The answer is both simple and complex at the same time. Practicing yoga requires you to synchronize breathing and movement, aligning body and mind.
When you first start practicing, keeping those two elements in harmony can be challenging, even when you are practicing simple poses. As you build your experience and expand your practice, you may choose more challenging poses. For some practitioners, the physical challenge makes it easier to keep your mind in the moment and stay focused.
The more consistently you practice, the easier it will become to achieve and maintain this high level of mental focus. The ability to stay in the moment and calm down rather than overreact will not only help you in your practice. As your inner strength grows, it can transform every part of your life.
Which Yoga Asanas Are Most Effective for Mental Health?
By now, we hope you agree that building physical and mental strength go hand-in-hand in yoga. Rather than choosing one asana over another, it’s more of a case of choosing where to put your focus and adapting your practice accordingly.
We recommend starting your session with breathing exercises to help you arrive in your practice. Performing gentle stretching poses can be equally beneficial before you tackle more challenging asanas.
When you’re choosing to build inner strength or mental resilience, think about building strength from the inside out. Then choose asanas accordingly. Here are some of our favorite poses to help you build physical and mental confidence.
Three Asanas for Inner Strength
1. Plank and Forearm Plank Pose
From the outside, plank poses may not look like much, but they’re powerful when you need to build inner strength. Settle into your plank pose and stay here for several breaths. You’ll really only feel the power of the pose once you spend a while in it.
When things are feeling tougher, stay for another few breaths, trying to keep them calm and measured. Building your resistance to the urge to quit will leave you feeling empowered and grow your self-esteem.
2. Warrior II Pose
Like variations of plank poses, Warrior II is accessible to most yoga practitioners and you may need to stay in the pose to appreciate its subtleties. Press your feet into the floor with intent and feel the energy rise up through your body. Remember to keep your upper body straight and lower your shoulders – and breathe. Try to rise and extend through the crown of your head with each inhale and relax when you exhale.
You’ll find that you’ll command your space on the mat after a few breaths. Take that strength with you into your day.
3. Half-Moon Pose
Think of this pose as a challenge to work on and to play with. It’s also a great indicator of self-doubt. Standing on one leg with one hand on the floor, the other arm extended toward the sky, and your second leg at a 90-degree angle behind you is not easy. If you struggle to keep your balance, try resting your hand on a yoga block.
You may also find that you can only hold the pose for a few seconds initially. However, as your confidence grows, you’ll be able to stay here longer using your core and your legs. Aligning core muscles, legs, and your mind encourages you to focus and apply that focus throughout your day.
Let Us Help You Discover Your Inner Warrior!
Building inner strength doesn’t happen overnight, and many of us benefit from having support as we build mental resistance. Think of our instructors as your support team. Whenever you join a Uptown Yoga class, we’re here to help you reach your goals, whether they are physical, mental, or a combination of both.
If you feel that you would benefit from more personalized support, talk to our team about booking a few private yoga sessions. With tailored support, you can often make amazing progress in a short amount of time, both mentally and physically. Join us today!