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Ask the Counsellors: Can You Explain How Yoga is Good for Mental Health?

Dear Aspire Too,

I’ve read on your website that you teach yoga at Aspire Too. I was diagnosed with mild anxiety and depression by my doctor a few years ago and I’ve tried lots of things to feel better, some work for me and others don’t. Exercise has been a struggle for me because I’m not in very good shape, so I have trouble following through with an exercise plan. My doctor has mentioned yoga could be good for me but I’ve never tried it. I just don’t understand how stretching can help me with depression and anxiety. Can you explain how yoga works and why my doctor suggested it for my mental health?

Signed, Lyn (not her real name)

Dear Lyn,

Great question! I can understand how the link between mental health and yoga can be confusing. There are a few reasons why yoga is beneficial for anxiety and depression. It’s a common misconception that yoga is simply stretching. Yoga increases flexibility, strength, and stamina. It’s a full-body exercise that goes beyond the physical and into the mental and emotional parts of ourselves.

Yoga calms the mind and tames the stress response. Unlike many other types of exercise, yoga maintains a deep focus on the breath. Throughout each session you will be reminded to re-connect to your breath and are encouraged to take rest whenever your breathing becomes harsh or rigid. This breath connection allows you to get out of your mind and into the practice, allowing you to become fully aware of the present moment. Relaxed breathing calms your nervous system and kicks your body out of a fight or flight response. For worrying minds, the benefits of yoga can be incredible. Yoga has been shown to be beneficial for pro-actively managing anxiety as well as a powerful tool for self-soothing during moments of high stress.

Exercise in general increases the production of serotonin in your body. Serotonin is thought to be responsible for maintaining a stable mood, which is why your doctor may have recommended exercise as a part of your depression management plan. Yoga is accessible for all bodies and is a great way for beginners to exercise. Yoga strengthens the mind-body connection and requires you to become aware of your body in each posture. Yoga has been shown to increase self esteem, feelings of self worth, and general happiness in people who develop a safe and consistent practice.

Of course, everybody is different and the effects of yoga are intricate and complex. While most people begin to feel the benefits of yoga after the first couple of classes, others may take longer to feel the psychological benefits. This is okay! Just make sure to listen to your body and to approach the practice with an open mind, allowing yourself to learn at a pace that is suitable
for you.

If you would like to consult with a counsellor or to book an appointment to, contact us at 306-382-2391 or www.aspiretoo.ca.

Gisele Plamondon, BSW