Guest Blog: Yoga and Mental Health

Dana is an Occupational Therapist, Psychotherapist and the owner and founder of Cedar Tree Therapy in Whitby. Dana is passionate about youth & young adult mental health. Dana is a runner and first came to yoga as a way to prevent running injuries, until she found that it offered so much more than that, both mentally and physically.

The Benefits of Yoga for Our Mental Health

Physical activity is good for our bodies in many ways, but what about how it benefits the most important organ in our body, our brain? Exercise benefits our mental health as it helps to reduce our level of stress and boost our happy chemicals in our brain. It improves our self confidence when we feel a sense of mastery and accomplishment after we have engaged in an activity.

In fact, exercise is so beneficial for our mental health that the research suggests that it can be used as an add on to treatment of serious mental health challenges we face such as anxiety or depression. We all experience moments of anxiety and depression from time to time, some people more than others.

How Can Yoga Improve My Mental Health?

So, why is exercise so beneficial to our mental health? Aside from the happy chemicals released, have you ever noticed that the things you chose to do impact your mood? For example, when you listen to sad music, you feel even more sad? When we stay in pyjamas all day, we feel less motivated to go about our day? Cognitive Behavioural Therapy tells us that our feelings and our behaviours are strongly connected. We know that the way we behave and the activities we engage in have an impact on our emotional state.
We often wait to feel better before we do something. For example, we may tell ourselves “When I’m feeling less anxious I will accept my friends invitation to go out for coffee”. Or, “I’ll wait until I’m feeling more motivated to go to yoga”. What we know is that if we follow the lead of our depression or anxiety, we are less likely to activate. The decision to activate can be the necessary turning point for our emotions to change. The decision to step onto our mat regardless of the fact that we may be feeling anxious or low today is the very thing that will help us feel better. Even if we don’t feel like doing it at the time.

Why Choose Yoga?

There are many types of physical activity we could choose to engage in, so why choose yoga?

It starts with the moment when we lay down on our mat. We connect to our breath, and start to slow our thoughts down. If our thoughts start to race, we are not judging ourselves for not being able to slow them down but rather just noticing that they are there and letting them float away. When we arrive on our mat, maybe we imagine ourselves melting into our mat, or imagining the back of our body growing roots that bury themselves deep into the floor to ground ourselves in the present moment .

These types of visualizations or mental images have a calming effect and benefits for our wellbeing. This kind of grounding imagery can be used at any time in our day to re-centre ourselves, it doesn’t have to just be in our yoga practice. Yoga and psychotherapy offer us tools that are very similar at times. A therapist might recommend using this kind of imagery before bed or throughout the day to pull us out of busy thoughts or worries and pull us into the present.

This use of calming mental imagery is not the only similarity between yoga and therapy. In yoga, everyone moves together in sequence through the same postures. This gives us a sense of belonging to others, belonging to a community. In therapy, we are offered a sense of community through knowing that we aren’t alone in what we are going through, in finding that there are others that understand our struggles.

One of the key elements of yoga is that it is a non-judgemental practice. Non-judgement also a key attitude of many great therapists. Yoga is not about how well you can hold your pose or about comparing yourself to the person next to you. You may notice when your eyes begin to gaze over at the person next to you in comparison, you begin to wobble in your tree pose. We can learn to notice our judgments in yoga just like we can learn to notice our unhelpful thinking styles that contribute to our anxiety and depression. By observing with non-judgement, you bring yourself back into balance both on your mat and in your mind.

If you feel that you would benefit from mindfulness, community & the development of non-judgement off your mat, or if you are looking for support for mental health challenges, do not hesitate to contact Cedar Tree Therapy.

Dana Collins OT Reg. (Ont.)
Occupational Therapist, Psychotherapist
Cedar Tree Therapy
728 Anderson St
Whitby, ON
L1N 3V6