A Word on Wellness: Yoga as a Tool for Improved Mental Health
Ok remember last month when I explained why yoga has mental health benefits? As promised, I will explain further by using the example of anxious teenage girls and the yoga group I started for them in February. [You can basically insert [you] instead of teenage girl, and [whatever issue you're struggling with] instead of the examples I'll use - that's how universal I believe the benefits of yoga to be.]
In my practice I see many teenage young women. All of them struggle with anxiety. They may be aware that the root of the anxiety is their never ending homework load, immense pressure to get into a good college, feeling lonely and isolated at school or trying to navigate their family life. Whatever the specifics are, anxiety is the general mental health issue that brings them through my doors. The symptoms of anxiety can often be mental - circular thinking, catastrophic thinking, and/or ruminating on the same worries (or as I like to call it "spinning"), and/or physical symptoms- tight chest with difficulty breathing, stomach issues and panic attacks. Now, there are many interventions therapists can use to treat these symptoms in therapy, and they can be incredibly effective. However, in my opinion the most effective interventions are ones that allow the client to experience relief right there in the room... yoga is one tool that, if used in a therapeutic way - and even if used IN therapy sessions - can create relief and client buy-in quite quickly.
Each week the young women in my group share their anxiety symptoms and we discuss the triggers, what makes it worse, better, how to have firmer boundaries etc. We use the thinking parts of our brains to explore the issue and possible ways to navigate it. This helps them feel less isolated and gives them more insight - which is great! Then we use our bodies and breath to directly reduce the feeling (whether that be a busy brain or tight chest) of anxiety. And rather than me telling them what they might try to reduce the anxiety, I SHOW them by leading them through breathing exercises and a yoga practice. They are actually able to feel the difference and the effectiveness right then. I don't have to convince them of some abstract concept, they experience the relief themselves, and they are on board.
All of the girls in my group have reported using the breathing exercises and certain yoga poses at home in between our meetings. They are more likely to try these interventions now because they know it works.
If you are someone who has tried to think your way out of anxiety, perhaps you'd be willing to try feeling your way out? If you're reading this and looking for relief (and maybe you're not ready for therapy) I'd say, give yoga a try. If you already have a very physical yoga practice, perhaps try to monitor the mental health benefits. Take a minute to see how you feel before, how busy is your mind, are you anxious? And then throughout the practice continue to direct your attention to your breath. Check in afterward to see if you feel any relief. It's also common for yoga to bring up many emotions (especially in certain moments of stillness), which is why I think a lot of people avoid the practice. If this is happening for you, perhaps you'd benefit from exploring this with a therapist. I do not believe that yoga is a replacement for the benefits of therapy, but in my opinion they go together nicely, and joining the two is something I plan to continue pursuing in my therapy practice.
Something to Read:
I just love her - Chrissy Teigen on Postpartum Depression.
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