We’re all familiar with the benefits of yoga on the body, but yoga is so much more than the physical —it was developed as a mental, spiritual, and religious practice, after all. Just as the original yogis practiced with the intention of restoring and maintaining a positive state of mental health, you too can achieve peace of mind through your practice.
Work Out Your Body and Improve Your Mood
Anyone who has ever twisted and bent their bodies through a yoga class will know it’s a lot of work. Whether you’re doing a strength and endurance-building ashtanga class or a quick-flow hatha session, there is no doubt that yoga will help build stamina and muscle strength. Just as daily exercise carries benefits for your mind, regular yoga practice does the same.
The best part? You don’t need to attain a coveted state of nirvana to benefit — you simply need to move your body and the benefits will come naturally. Working out releases endorphins — chemicals in your brain that will help improve your mood long after you say your last “om.”
Find Your Focus
Everyone has days where they feel frantic and scattered. Yoga is an effective way to step back from the stress du jour and calm your breathing, your body, and your mind. Just as you work to gain flexibility and stamina, you have to dedicate time to find your focus. Meditating and yoga help you concentrate on a single thing, be it your breathing or a problem you need to solve. As author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg said during an interview with the blog A Life of Productivity, meditation helps “you learn to gather that kind of wild energy and settle, so you’re more centered and there’s more energy available to you in a more focused way.”
Kundalini yoga may be particularly effective at helping you find your calm and focus. Kundalini is the term used to describe the spiritual energy said to rest at the bottom of the spine. Through guided chanting and breathing practices, yogis who unravel their kundalini can expect to feel increased energy, happiness, and yes, focus.
In an article for Psychology Today, neuroscientist Alex Korb says yoga poses actually cause body stress — but that the act of finding your cool during those postures will help you better relax during other stressful moments in your life.
Sound counterintuitive? Consider this: stress is caused when anxious messages are sent between the brain’s prefrontal cortex and the limbic system, your brain’s emotional center. But these anxious messages are not inevitable, and can be controlled with careful practice. Sustained yoga practice can retrain your brain to not automatically invoke a stressful response during times of perceived panic. Korb isn’t alone in his research – a study in the Journal of Nursing Research found that a single hatha yoga class could reduce feelings of stress.
The child’s pose (balasana) and the cat’s pose (marjaryasana) are said to be two effective poses to counter the negative effects of stress.
Feel More Powerful
The way we position our bodies makes a huge difference to how we approach the world and the people we meet. In her TED Talk that’s been viewed more than 28 million times, social psychologist and Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy attests to the power of body language and the impact holding confident postures can have on our lives. With tall, strong poses like the warrior and goddess, yoga is a perfect articulation of what Cuddy recommends. Standing in these positions can release testosterone and cortisol — two hormones that will have positive boosting effects on your mind.
Yoga is a tool you can use to improve your body — physically and mentally. Meditate on that during your next yoga session!