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Mental Health Awareness Week: It’s All About Movement 

Updated: May 14

How does yoga affect mental health? Head with flowers in the break on a pink wavy background.

When I started teaching yoga, I wasn't quite sure where it would take me. I knew first-hand the incredible benefits I’d experienced from my practice, in my body but also particularly for my mental health. After completing my teacher training, I decided to dive deeper into restorative yoga and yoga for stress and anxiety. This deepened my passion for sharing yoga to support mental well-being.

Now, I share yoga at a local mental health hub, on stress-relief courses, in communities beyond the typical yoga studio setting, as well as therapeutic one-to-one sessions. Seeing the positive changes in participants has been truly inspiring. It's evident that movement, in its various forms, plays a crucial role in mental health. Let's explore how:

Physical movement:

  • Stress reduction: Yoga postures are adaptable to suit your body's needs, whether it's gentle chair yoga or more vigorous standing poses. They help release tension in both body and mind, promoting relaxation and a calmer state of mind. This can lead to decreased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, while also triggering the release of endorphins, natural mood elevators.

  • Increased energy levels: Gentle movement can invigorate the body and boost circulation, leading to increased energy and improved mood. This physical activity can also enhance insulin sensitivity, helping regulate blood sugar levels and providing a sustained energy boost.

Movement of breath (Pranayama and Mantra):

  • Mind-body connection: Yoga emphasises connecting breath with movement. This might sound weird, but it actually helps you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, making it easier to deal with them. It helps you create space and acceptance around parts of you that might feel difficult or stuck. 

  • Calming effect: Deep, controlled breathing techniques and practicing with sound in yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety. This can lead to a decrease in adrenaline levels, the hormone associated with the "fight or flight" response. 

Movement of habits:

  • Building resilience: Yoga encourages you to try new things, even if they might feel a bit out there at first. This practice of pushing yourself - in a kind way - translates into being more able to handle whatever life throws your way.

  • Self-compassion: Yoga is all about being kind to yourself. This focus on self-acceptance spills over into your everyday life, making you more compassionate to yourself and others. Just being with who you are on the mat, here and now, can bring real change, gently and gradually. Self-compassion can enhance the release of oxytocin, the "love hormone," fostering feelings of connection and empathy.

Mental health magic - move, feel, heal:

  • Mindfulness is amazing: Yoga helps you focus on the present moment, instead of getting caught up in worries about the future or the past. This can leave you feeling calmer and clearer. By fostering mindfulness, yoga can also increase serotonin levels, improving mood and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety

  • Kindness is key: Yoga emphasises being kind, not just to yourself but to everyone around you. This focus on kindness can make your relationships stronger and leave you feeling more connected to the world. Practising with others can stimulate the release of oxytocin, enhancing feelings of trust and empathy.

Bonus: Yoga for everyone!

The beauty of yoga is that it can be adapted to pretty much anyone. There are modifications for every kind of body, age and fitness level. Even the simplest of practices can have an effect on your mental health. The different types of movement (physical movement, breathwork and mindfulness) all contribute to a stronger, more resilient mind and body. If you're looking to improve your mental health and overall well-being, consider giving yoga a try. You might be surprised by the positive impact it can have on your life. I’m always happy to talk about yoga so please do message me with any feedback, or questions. 

I am uploading short practices for Mental Health Awareness Week on the resources page, if you can't access message me and I will send you the password.

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