How to Practice Yoga for Mental Health

By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP, CAADC

How to Practice Yoga for Mental Health

yoga for mental health

yoga for mental health 

Yoga is a unique holistic practice that targets healing in the body, mind, and soul at the same time, providing a profound transformation for mental health. Many people often associate yoga only with the physical benefits, but yoga is actually primarily geared towards the mind in traditional practice.

Our world is facing a major mental health crisis in modern times, with more people struggling with emotional issues every day. But ongoing scientific research suggests that regular yoga practice may be the secret to improving mental health and living a happier, healthier, and more joyful life.

How Can Yoga Help Mental Health?

In traditional yoga, as defined by Patanjali, the primary purpose of yoga is to calm the fluctuations of the mind. Our minds are often easily pulled into thoughts, worries, stress, anxiety, or depression. But yoga philosophy teaches us that these tendencies or habit patterns can actually be broken, and eventually, we can calm these waves so that we can peer into the depths of the soul.

Yoga works on the level of body-mind integration. As a society, we have become so disconnected from ourselves that many people are entirely unable even to feel sensations or actually connect to their intuition. Yoga practice guides people through the process of deep interconnection and embodiment, allowing them to feel what is happening in their bodies and understand how the mind expresses itself physically.

Yoga is now viewed as one of the best ways to improve mental health due to this unique holistic approach. There are undoubtedly many excellent yoga poses for mental health, but the actual benefits of yoga come from the more profound practices of awareness, breathing techniques, meditation, and living in line with the ethical precepts.

Beyond the physical impacts on your nervous system, the philosophical teachings of yoga can drastically begin to shift your mindset, open you to new perspectives, and teach you how to be with your emotions and the ups and downs of life. Challenges in life are inevitable, but yoga teaches us how to be with these challenges with greater ease and understanding, riding the waves of life with inner peace.

Yoga Poses for Mental Health

Yoga has a unique impact on the body by shifting the energetics of the subtle flow within and causing a profound transformation. Each chakra is connected with a different component of mental health and healing, and through yoga poses, you can balance your chakras and heal the underlying cause of imbalance in your mental health.

Also, in yoga philosophy, when we practice yoga poses, it clears the nadis or energetic channels in the body so that the flow of prana or life force energy can move more harmoniously. This life force energy underlies our mental health, and as its flow becomes more substantial, we automatically become filled with more sattvic energy or pure light.

Truly balanced mental health doesn’t come from practicing one specific yoga pose. Instead, it comes from the state of mind that you cultivate as you are in the pose through deep awareness and a meditative state of mind. But certain yoga poses can balance your energy and harmonize your mind, furthering this process.

Through the combination of active vinyasa yoga and restorative yoga practices, you can find balance in your mind and renew yourself through yoga. See below for the best yoga poses for mental health:

• Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar)

• Corpse Pose (Savasana)

• Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

• Upward Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

• Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)

• Child’s Pose (Balasana)

• Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana)

Yoga for Anxiety

People with anxiety often struggle with ruminating thoughts, tension in their bodies, rapid breathing, and restlessness. This state of being in yoga is called a rajasic state. In yoga philosophy, rajas is the energetic state of action, desire, and movement. But when rajas becomes imbalanced, it can turn into overactivity, nervous energy, or anger.

The main goal of yoga for anxiety is to calm rajas in the mind, release tension in the body, and promote a more sattvic or calm state of being. This is often accomplished by bringing both tamas or grounding along with sattva or spirituality and light into your practice.

Often, restorative yoga and yin yoga are the best practices for an anxious mind, but a combination of vinyasa and restorative yoga can be excellent for expelling the excess energy before shifting into deep relaxation. Additionally, forward bending poses can help bring blood flow into the brain to calm the mind and ground your energy. See below for the best yoga poses for anxiety:

• Reclined Butterfly Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)

• Wind Releasing Pose (Apanasana)

• Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)

• Supported Fish Pose (Matsyasana)

• Child’s Pose (Balasana)

• Seated Forward Fold Pose (Paschimottanasana)

• Head to Knee Pose (Janu Shirsasana)

Yoga for Depression

Depression is typically characterized by feelings of prolonged sadness, low energy, fatigue or insomnia, hunger or loss of appetite, lack of concentration, and slowness in the body. This energy in yoga is often called tamas, or the energy of darkness, inertia, potential, and inactivity. We all need some tamas within us to keep us grounded, but when this tamas becomes stuck or excessive, it can create blockages in the mind.

To clear tamas and relieve the symptoms of depression, we need to bring a little rajas or vibrant energy into the body. With regular flowing movement in vinyasa yoga, you can gradually begin to thaw the stuck emotions in the body, wake up the mind, and improve your overall energy. But remember to balance this activity with restorative rest and sattvic practices to rejuvenate the body and mind from the inside out.

Any yoga practices that increase energy in the body and clear the channels or nadis can be excellent for depression. Back bending poses are also often recommended for depression because they revitalize the body and reverse the flow of energy, providing you with a new perspective. See below for the best yoga poses for depression:

• Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)

• Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar)

• Camel Pose (Ustrasana)

• Wide Legged Standing Forward Fold Pose (Prasarita Padotanasana)

• Warrior 2 Pose (Virabhadrasana II)

• Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)

• Cat-Cow Pose (Bitilasana and Marjariasana)

Yoga for Balancing Emotions

We all experience different emotions at times, and yoga is an excellent practice to help us find balance and peace in the chaos of life. One of the primary teachings of yoga philosophy is to reduce the fluctuations of the mind and how it is pulled into either desire or aversion. When we can learn how to view the world through an equanimous and neutral mind, we will gradually become less impacted by what happens around us.

But this doesn’t mean that you will become numb or unfeeling like a stoic monk. Yoga teaches us to feel our emotions and then let them go, releasing whatever no longer serves us. So, as you begin to explore the many yoga practices for mental health, make sure to tune into your body, feel the sensations occurring, and be present with whatever arises with compassion and non-judgmental awareness.

Renew Yourself with Yoga

At the end of the day, yoga is one of many outstanding self-care practices that remind us of the importance of inner rejuvenation. Through the process of renewing yourself through yoga, you are making a small statement to your inner self that you truly matter. We all deserve love and care, and self-love and self-care are the first steps to begin.

But remember that yoga is so much more than just a physical practice or a series of poses. Beyond yoga poses, there are many excellent breathing practices, meditation techniques, and profound philosophical teachings that can genuinely get to the core of any underlying issues and unroot imbalances in the body, mind, and soul.

Along with any physical yoga practice, make sure to include balancing breathing techniques, such as alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana), skull shining breath (Kapalabhati), and humming bee breath (Bhramari). Additionally, loving-kindness meditation, yoga nidra, and mindfulness meditation can deepen your journey through mental health and promote a profound awakening from within.

Learn Yoga for Mental Health in Our Online Yoga Teacher Training Courses

The journey through yoga for mental health can last a lifetime, but it is a journey that facilitates a true transformation. Millions of people around the world have benefited from yoga for depression, anxiety, and overall emotional balance. All it takes is 5 minutes of daily practice to begin to feel the effects in your own life.

Whether you struggle with mental health or are inspired to support others in this process, yoga is an excellent method for support. Becoming a yoga teacher is a beautiful way to deepen your personal practice, learn the true depths of yoga, and gain the skills to share this wisdom with others.

In our online yoga teacher training courses, we provide a truly holistic education of yoga, giving you the breadth and depth of this profound practice. So, reach out to us today for more information on our online 200-hour and 300-hour yoga teacher training courses, and begin your journey into a balanced mind and inner renewal today!

About the Author

Founder of Online Yoga School and Yoga & Ayurveda Center

Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP, CAADC

Steph has over 25 years of experience in yoga and movement.  Her understanding of yoga and the human body has been influenced by lifelong dancing and holistic health.  She found her life’s purpose in helping people become happier and healthier through her own healing journey.  Steph assists her students in knowing the joy and wonderment of integrating the mind and body through accessible yoga.  She encourages an authentic and life-nurturing practice, one that brings greater consciousness to each moment and every movement of the body with a heavy emphasis on breath.  

With a masters degree in counseling, Steph brings awareness, acceptance and a down to earth approach to her classes.  She studied with Maty Ezraty and later completed her second 200-hour training with Nancy Candea at Yoga Impact in New Jersey and her 300-hour training with Chris Loebsack at Boundless Yoga Studio in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.   The perpetual student, Steph has studied with Leslie Howard, Travis Eliot, Bryan Kest, Donna Farhi and countless others.  She has extensive training in pelvic floor yoga, restorative yoga, yin yoga, power yoga and accessible yoga.  Most recently, Steph was certified as a Grand Master of Meditation through Swami Vidyanand.

Steph founded Yoga and Ayurveda Center with her husband.  She later launched Online Yoga School to support her local trainings and has recently launched a virtual yoga studio to accommodate the international community of trainees.

When she isn’t on her mat, Steph can be found volunteering, enjoying her husband and children, dancing and cooking.  She currently enjoys serving on the board of World Yoga Federation and Meditation Alliance International and previously enjoyed serving on the Education Committee of Yoga Alliance and places a strong emphasis on inclusivity in her teacher trainings.

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