yoga for mental health

    How Yoga Can Help Improve Your Mental Health

    1024 768 Red Mountain Colorado

    When you first think of yoga, what comes to mind?  For many people yoga is simply just “stretching” and is only meant for those of us who are super flexible and young, but this is simply just not the case.  Yoga is an ancient Hindu practice that includes breath control, meditation, and specific bodily postures which all work together to create a well-rounded practice, with both physical and mental benefits.  Here we will explore what yoga is, the benefits of practicing yoga, and how yoga can be beneficial to teens in particular.

    What is yoga and how do I practice it?

    While yoga does include lots of stretching, it is a much more intricate practice than just that.  Yoga is essentially a spiritual discipline that focuses on bringing harmony between the mind and body.  Yoga incorporates 3 major components, asana, pranayama, and mindfulness.  In simpler terms, you can think of these as the body, breath, and mind.  All 3 of these components must work together in order to make your yoga practice most effective.  

    Asana: Asana is the physical part of your practice or “the body”.  This essentially refers to the poses or postures of a yoga practice.  Many people view asana as the main part of a yoga practice, but this is not true, asana is only the postural part of a yoga practice, and the other components are equally important in order to make an effective yoga practice.  Asana is where the majority of the physical benefits and activity comes from in a yoga practice.  These poses may be modified to be as challenging or beginner-friendly as you need.

    Pranayama:  Pranayama refers to the breathwork portion of a yoga practice.  This is the foundational part of a yoga practice as movements and postures are centered around the breath.  There are a variety of breathing techniques that may be used in a yoga practice, yet regardless of which breathing technique is used in your practice, it is important to remain engaged and focused on the breath.  An engaged breath practice can help to relieve minor fatigue, anxiety, and depression.  

    Mindfulness:  Mindfulness is an incredibly popular and powerful practice on its own, yet it is an essential component of a full yoga practice.  Mindfulness is a mental state that is achieved when you are able to focus your awareness entirely on the present moment.  When practicing mindfulness, we are aiming to eliminate distractions and allow thoughts and feelings to be accepted without judgment, but not honed-in on.  Mindfulness allows you to place your full attention on whatever you are doing at the current moment in time, allowing for more engagement in your daily activities.  Mindfulness is a key element of your practice because it keeps your mind engaged, creating many of the mental benefits we see associated with yoga.      

    Benefits of Yoga

    Yoga has been shown to have a number of health benefits pertaining to both physical and mental or emotional health.  Just some of the many incredible benefits of yoga include:

    Physical Benefits:

    • Builds muscle strength and flexibility:  Yoga practices heavily involve the use of your muscles, overtime improving their strength and flexibility.  This can help to protect you from conditions like arthritis and chronic back pain.  
    • Improves bone health:  Many postures in yoga require you to lift and support your own body weight, engaging in weight-bearing exercises helps to strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis. 
    • Increases blood flow:  Yoga helps to get your blood pumping and increases the flow of oxygen to your blood cells.  Twisting poses help to wring out “old” blood from internal organs and allow it to be replaced with new freshly oxygenated blood.  Inverted poses, such as headstands or handstands, allow for blood from the lower body to flow back to the heart to be pumped to the lungs and reoxygenated.  This can help to reduce blood clots, reduce swelling, and can lead to a decrease in heart attacks. 
    • Drains lymph’s and boosts immunity:  The contracting and stretching of muscles when coming in and out of yoga postures helps to increase the drainage of your lymph’s.  This helps the lymphatic system fight infection, destroy cancerous cells, and dispose of toxic waste products.

    Mental Benefits:

    • Increases happiness:  Yoga helps to promote the active engagement of our brains.  Studies have found that when you consistently practice yoga your body’s serotonin (“happy hormone”) levels increase.  Not only does serotonin increase but the stress hormone cortisol decreases, leading to lower stress levels and a decrease in depression.
    • Helps you focus:  As we’ve discussed an important component of your yoga practice is being aware and mindful.  However, yoga can improve more than just focus.  Regular yoga practice can improve coordination, reaction time, memory, and even IQ scores.  This may be due to the fact that yoga helps us become less distracted by our thoughts.  
    • Increases self-esteem:  Many of us struggle with our own self-esteem from time to time.  Yoga helps to improve self-esteem as it encourages self-examination and betterment.  Improving your self-esteem helps you to experience more feelings of gratitude, empathy, forgiveness, as well as a sense of being part of something bigger.
    • Encourages healthy lifestyle:  Not only is yoga a healthy lifestyle practice on its own, but it can help you to adopt other healthy lifestyle practices.  Yoga works to improve inner strength and emotional wellbeing which may encourage you to start eating better, exercising more, or even quit smoking, without having to put in as much effort.          

    The 7 Chakras 

    When thinking of yoga and meditation, you may or may not have heard of the concept of the 7 chakras.  In Sanskrit, the word “chakra” means “disk” or “wheel” and refers to the energy centers within your body.  Each of these energy centers or chakras corresponds to certain nerve bundles and organs.  Ideally, all 7 chakras need to stay open and balanced in order for you to function at your best.  Specific yoga practices work to nurture each of these chakras keeping them each in balance and performing at their best.  

    Root Chakra:  The root chakra is located at the base of the spine and provides foundation for life, helping you to feel grounded and resilient.  Asanas such as deep lunges, hip-openers, and squats help to restore this chakra as we breath into the root with these poses.

    Sacral Chakra:  The sacral chakra is located in the pelvis and is linked to our emotions and desires.  When this chakra is in balance, we access our potential for self-healing and maximum pleasure.  Asanas for the sacral chakra include forward bends, hip openers, and deep lunges.

    Solar Plexus Chakra:  The 3rd chakra, also known as the navel chakra, located near the belly button, is associated with the digestive system as well as individual power and purpose.  The best asanas for this chakra are twists.

    Heart Chakra:  As the name says, located at the heart the heart chakra is the center for love, compassion and faith.  When blocked or out of balance we may experience feelings of insecurity, disappointment, loneliness, and despair.  To bring more light into the heart chakra, work heavily with pranayama, and meditation in your yoga practice.  Asanas such as backbends help to open the heart chakra.

    Throat Chakra:  Located at the throat, the throat chakra is primarily responsible for our communication and listening abilities.  If you’re having trouble with communication your throat chakra is said to be out of balance.  Practicing asanas such as Plow, Camel, Shoulderstand, and Fish Pose help to heal and purify the throat chakra. 

    Third-Eye Chakra:  The third-eye is also known as the “command center” and is located at about eyebrow level.  Physically, it is connected to the pituitary gland, growth, and development.  This chakra is largely associated with our intuition, or “inner knowing”.  Asanas such as child’s pose, or nasal breathing exercises help to heal this center.

    Crown Chakra:  The crown chakra is the highest of all chakras, located at the top of the head.  When in balance we feel joy, peace, and positivity.  When out of balance we feel a deep distrust for the world around us and are controlled by our egos.  To keep this chakra in balance, practice asanas such as half lotus pose or corpse pose.                       

    Red Mountain Colorado can Help

    If your teen is struggling with behavioral or emotional challenges, our program at Red Mountain Colorado may be able to help.  We specialize in the treatment of trauma-related mental health challenges for teens.   

    Our mindfulness-based treatment programs help teens to discover their inherent goodness and place an emphasis on redirecting their lives in a positive direction.  Throughout the program, we encourage teens to develop healthy coping skills and habits to work through life challenges. 

    If you believe our program may be a good fit for you or your teen please call (970) 316-7683 for more information.   

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