There is no panacea for overall health. It takes physical effort, and mental effort, too. But one way of tackling both at the same time is yoga. There are many brands and styles of yoga, from something focusing solely on the physical to those that include meditation and other religious overtones. Not all of these are suitable for everyone, but because one style didn't work out, doesn't mean none of them might work for you.
Strike a Pose
The poses are the outward manifestations of yoga. They have a certain power to them, but ultimately the purpose of yoga is to tame the mind and this is where the mental health benefits can arise. The poses is the physical element and build strength, flexibility and improved balance. Including yoga with a weight lifting regimen can help lessen the muscle soreness that we feel a day or 2 after a heavy workout.
Practicing the poses can be one way to note progress in ourselves, show us our potential and helping us to become more comfortable with ourselves.
Alain Benitez, a yoga teacher at 12th Street Gym and elsewhere in the Philadelphia area said that one could practice yoga for quite awhile without noticing the effects on the body [it's more than flexibility] and mind. “Yoga has taught me to be more mindful and increased my self awareness.” He found that his ability to control his breathing on the mat translated into benefits off the mat. When faced with a difficult situation, he returns to his yogic breathing to slow down his mind and respond more appropriately, rather than reacting and regretting it later.
Yoga has been shown to relieve certainly mental distresses, but a really striking example are the studies showing that a yoga regimen was able to decrease the symptoms of eating disorders while lessening anxiety and depression symptoms, too. An article in the Scientific American Mind linked these changes to interoception – our mind's ability to take note of internal stimuli in the body – hungry or being full, feeling hot or cold, etc. etc. The article discusses interoception as a trait that is off balance in people with eating disorders and a trait that is strengthened for everyone through yoga.
My first yoga teacher, Louis Delmar started practicing yoga 40 years ago in California, after he was directed to try “yogic breathing” to deal with panic attacks. It worked, and not to short himself with a short-term fix, he has been practicing ever since and teaching it for the past 38 years. He found that “a steady practice allowed me to regain that internal locus of control again ... greatly reduced the stress I was having not really knowing what direction I wanted to go in life.”
The relaxation response that deepened Louis' practice also has been shown to alleviate anxiety, lower the heart rate and other positive physical effects.
Practice Doesn't Make Perfect
Louis has been "practicing" yoga for 40 years. I have been practicing for 8 and Alain for 7. And every time we go to the mat there is something new or different or a next step to take. Combined with a better sense of self, this practice becomes a journey to self exploration, not a race. It's a worth a try and the benefits can pay lifelong dividends.
Philadelphia MFT is running a 4 session (beginning April 24) Total Wellness Workshop discussing body image issues, overall health, getting on track and staying the course. Follow the link for more information or get in touch with us to get your questions answered.
This Topic of the Week was written by Brian Swope, MFT.