Yoga For Your Brain, Not Just Your Body
Posted on September 25 2018
Sure, yoga makes you bendy and slim and lets you post some badass handstands on your Instagram while rocking some bitchin’ leggings. But did you know that yoga is good for your mind, too? We’re not just talking about momentary zen, either — these are legit, long-term benefits for your mental health.
Rest-and Digest, Not Fight-or Flight
When you’re stressed, as today’s twenty somethings are, well, basically all the time, your brain turns over control to the sympathetic nervous system, also referred to as fight-or-flight mode. This releases adrenaline, epinephrine, and a whole host of other hormones and chemicals.
Problem is, that fight-or-flight response evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago, when human beings had concerns like “oh crap it’s a lion,” not “how am I going to make rent?” When your sympathetic nervous system is triggered by a lion, it’s a short-term worry — you either escape or you’re lunch.
When it’s triggered by the stresses of work, finances, relationships, and so on, over and over, all day long, you’re in a constant state of fight-or-flight, and that has nasty long-term effects on your immune system, sleep, memory, attention, and other important stuff like that.
When you do yoga, though, all that goes away. Concentrating on your poses and your breathing, no matter how simple or advanced they are, switches focus in your brain back from your sympathetic nervous system to your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you relax and unwind.
Compare and Despair
As tempting as it is to look at the double-jointed supermodel next to you, that’s not what yoga is about. Yoga isn’t even about getting yourself into crazy positions — it’s about trying. Yoga is a challenge for yourself, to breathe, to focus, and to improve.
You’ll build trust in yourself, exercise more, and eat healthier, because you’ll start to realize that you’re worth the effort. With that trust comes confidence — confidence that you can take on new challenges and make progress. You’ll stop judging yourself by how you look next to other people, and start judging by how you feel.
Room for Romance
When you start to see yourself as a person — with flaws, goals, struggles, and triumphs — you’ll see your partners the same way. You won’t lose your temper with them, because you know it doesn’t help when someone loses their temper with you. The more forgiving and compassionate you are with yourself, the more you’ll extend that compassion to your partners, and the better off you’ll both be.
Yoga To Alleviate Depression
Several studies have indicated that yoga might be an effective treatment for depression, which a depressing (sorry) number of people suffer from — roughly one in sixteen people in the US. Even people with chronic depression felt their stress, anxiety, and rumination — fancy word for deep existential thoughts — go down after only 2.5 hours of yoga a week.
How? Yoga encourages you to focus on the here and now — the pose you’re in, whether you’re breathing in or out, the feel of your hand on the mat, that bead of sweat dripping down your back. There’s no room for worrying about the future or your relationships or anything else that might be getting you down.
And the best part is, once you get more practice, you can go back to that chill mental state even when you’re not in the middle of a pose.