Yoga & Mental Health
Who can benefit from activities such as yoga and meditation?
Everyone and anyone can benefit from yoga and meditation! Click here for a summary of some of the benefits of yoga and mental health.
There are many different forms or ‘schools’ of yoga out there, some of which are more to do with the pure physical fitness aspect (e.g., Bikram Yoga), and others which are more encompassing of a mind/body wellness approach (such as ‘yin yoga’). Slower, more meditative or mindful classes that incorporate meditation and breathing exercises in addition to the physical postures might be a good place to start for those seeking to enhance their mental health.
At Foundation Psychology Victoria, Dr Zac Elizabeth Buchanan offers experiential workshops, teaching movement, breath and awareness skills to support mental wellbeing.
What impact can relaxation and activities such as yoga have on our overall wellbeing?
Stretching the body physically when done compassionately and mindfully (like with yoga poses) has been thought to help reduce the body’s stress-response (fight or flight mode). This in turn can help us feel calmer, less anxious and more mentally alert.
However, when it comes to yoga in particular, the benefits of the practice does not only come from physical stretches and twisting our bodies in to pretzels (!) but about learning to breathe properly (which has a huge impact on both our physiological and mental states), meditating, noticing our minds’ unhelpful thinking patterns that can perpetuate suffering, and practicing self-compassion and gentleness. It is these finer components of yoga (literally translated as union) – which can be realized and practiced in the physical poses (asanas) – that is believed to impact our overall mental wellbeing. In fact, recent research has found a regular practice of yoga (incorporating all its ‘limbs’; not just physical poses) can help reduce symptoms of depression further when combined with regular psychological therapy.
Research is yet, however, to show yoga and meditation practice in and of itself can replace psychological therapy for those suffering from mental health issues. It is however, a fantastic adjunct to therapy and is a great way to help maintain good mental wellbeing.
What is meditation?
The word ‘meditation’ is best considered an umbrella term for a range of different practices, such as mindfulness. Even mindfulness meditation can come in a variety of forms! Some meditation techniques are great for depression and anxiety, while others might exacerbate symptoms. Meditation techniques that are contemplative in practice and focus more on turning inward and withdrawing from the senses can be confronting and anxiety-provoking for those who may have a fear of losing control or who aren’t used to these kinds of experiences. Contemplative and some mindfulness meditation practices can also be challenging from an emotional point of view as you are likely to be exposed to a range of thoughts and emotions that are unpleasant or upsetting. Without having developed proper emotion regulation skills, there is a risk one might get caught up in the anxious or depressive thoughts rather than ‘watching them float by’ from a distance. It is recommended that you seek the advice and guidance of a Psychologist if you experience any distress while meditating.
A key skill to learn in preparation for meditation is the idea of ‘grounding’ oneself back in the present moment (a key tenet of mindfulness meditation). The act of grounding is all about getting back in touch with your senses – feeling where you body is in space (your back against the chair, your feet on the floor, your hands in your lap), the sounds and smells around you, and tuning into the rise and fall of your breath. Using the body as an anchor is a great tool to use if you ever start to feel overwhelmed and out of control in the waves of emotions or thoughts that arise. Being truly ‘in’ your body leaves little room to worry about the past or the future.
What are the benefits of meditation?
On the whole, the biggest benefit of meditation is the reduction of hyperactivity in our fight/flight center of our brain. When we are in a constant state of stress, we feel more anxious, react more strongly to stressful stimuli and even have reduced ability to think clearly and logically! Through meditation, we can help calm this part of the brain down, leading us to feel more relaxed, happier, and think more clearly. Of course, just as if someone were to ask you to run a marathon this weekend without any training, you can’t expect to reap the full benefits of meditation if you only practice it in times of stress. Like anything you want to improve in, you need to train and practice regularly.
At Foundation Psychology Victoria, we are strong advocates for the benefits of mindfulness meditation and we seek to help people learn this valuable skill in both individual therapy sessions and in groups here and below.
Yoga for the Brain Workshop
Join Dr Zac Elizabeth Buchanan, Clinical Psychologist and Yoga Teacher, in this immersive workshop discovering the benefits of yoga practices for the ‘brain’.
In this 1.5-2 hour group-based workshop, you will learn about how our amazing and intricate minds work (from both a Western Psychology and Yoga perspective), the mind-body connection and key yoga skills you can use on a regular basis to maintain and develop your own sense of mental wellbeing.
You will be provided with handouts and theory, but this will mostly be an experiential course, meaning that we will spend a big part of our time exploring movement/asana, breath/pranayama techniques and meditation practices.
No prior experience in yoga is necessary. The physical component of the workshop will be gentle, and thus the course will be suitable for most people, regardless of their level of yoga experience, strength or flexibility. You will be required to get up and down from the floor with ease and sit on the floor (with props, such as cushions, if required).
For more information on this workshop, please send us an email or call us on 03 9039 2177.