Yoga for mental health
6th March 2019
At Adia we believe in the power of yoga for mental health. It can help de-stress, clear your mind and take some time for yourself – whatever life stage you are at. In fact two of our co-founders (Lina and Tyler) are certified yoga teachers! Research also shows that yoga is a good way to boost your overall health. If you’ve not tried it, why not think about giving it a go! This post gives an overview of yoga for both pregnancy and preconception.
Yoga for mental health and pregnancy
Yoga is often talked about as a good form of exercise during pregnancy. The Mayo Clinic has done some research on this actually. In this article “Prenatal yoga: what you need to know” they talk through the various benefits from better sleep to less stress and generally how yoga can be helpful for a healthy mind.
There are so many choices when you find out you are pregnant. This can really create anxiety particularly as the internet contains so much information that can be quite confusing. Of course it all depends on how you practice yoga and what you during class. But most pregnancy yoga classes involve the following:
- Focus on breathing: This helps calm your mind and by breathing slowly and deeply while paying attention to how it feels and sounds.
- Stretching: Most classes involve some basic stretching to loosen up mostly in the legs, arms and back.
- Postures: Yoga is full of tons of posture. In fact Lina and Tyler’s teacher, Dharma Mittra, at the Dharma Yoga Center in New York, documented over 700 postures as shown in the image below! The postures can help build flexibility as well as gently improve strength.
- Cool down and relaxation: Most all yoga classes end with gentle breathing, meditation, and most commonly a practice called sivasana where you just lay down and relax, as shown in this video:
So this can all be a great way to take a break from any stress you have and give your body a treat with a stretch and some gentle strength building. It’s not exactly a substitute for hitting the gym or a long run but might be a good alternative way to get a change of pace.
Avoid getting too hot!
One yoga practice that you should avoid or at least limit though is hot yoga. You probably have heard that pregnant women are told to avoid saunas and hot tubs. The same is true for women who may become pregnant and some of the really intense yoga studios can get really hot! While most set the temperature of the hot room to 92° it has been shown to, albeit in rare cases, raise body temperature above the 102.2° limit recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for women in the first trimester.
Yoga for fertility and preconception health
All the attention in fertility and yoga is on prenatal. However there is a lot to be said for yoga when you are trying to conceive. There isn’t any research to our knowledge linking yoga specifically to increased fertility or ovulation. Yoga when trying to conceive can really just help in the same way as other activities to reduce stress. It’s been shown to increase body awareness, and reduce muscle tension, strain, and inflammation. It also helps sharpen attention and trying to conceive, and calms and centers the nervous system.
It’s also worth noting for any hardcore workout junkies reading this that over-exercise and extreme workouts are something to avoid while conceiving. As this other article from the Mayo Clinic points out such exercise can reduce the level of progesterone and thereby inhibit ovulation. So they recommend limiting strenuous exercise to less than 5 hours a week.
And there is some growing research out there looking at the benefits of yoga for fertility so good to watch this space. One study involving a mind/body program designed to reduce stress during IVF treatments had a measurable effect on conception success rates. Women in the study who participated in the mind/body program conceived at a 32% higher rate than those who did not.
The truth is that when you’re trying to conceive we know that’s often the only thing you can think about. Establishing good mental health, with the help of yoga or other practices, will be important throughout your reproductive health journey whether during pregnancy or beyond. So its worth making the investment both for now and the longer term!
How does it help your mental health?
Yoga for infertility and mental health has a wide range of benefits for your meditation and body. As discussed above yoga can help with mindfulness meditation on mental health whether its managing stress, dealing with depression or even more acute psychological disorders. So the question people always ask is: does yoga help clear your mind? The key thing to understand is that yoga can help treat the entire body by helping move from sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. The deep breathing and relaxation can help give your entire nervous system a break and makes it easier to clear your mind. This will actually shift your gears from the fight-flight mode that was ingrained in humans for survival to the rest and digest mode.
When we were living in caves we had this inbuilt instinct of fight or flight to help escape tigers and other dangers. That same reaction in our nervous system can be sparked these days by a bad email from a boss or a high credit card bill! So its important to take time to rest, even if you’re not running from tigers, and yoga can help with that.
So that then leads to the next question:
How yoga heals different mental and physical disorders?
In modern society today yoga is often thought of as a form physical exercise. However throughout the history of yoga it has always been a combination of physical and psychological exercises. The research on psychophysiological benefits date back over 100 years demonstrating the ability of yoga to reduce stress, regulate emotions, improve mood and wellbeing, improve cognitive functioning, enhance respiratory function, improve flexibility, and enhance muscular strength and neuromuscular performance. These benefits are really well summarized in the study “Yoga for psychiatry and mental health“. It also recounts how the studies in the 1970s demonstrated benefits for patients suffering from schizophrenia all the way through to today.
This body of research is growing ever larger. Yet despite this just a decade ago most would have been skeptical at best of the benefits of yoga on such disorders as schizophrenia or depression. However yoga is increasingly becoming an acceptable and understood treatment method. As the study states “We now have yoga research studies on post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addictive behaviors, attention-deficit disorders and even autism.” These studies are becoming ever more sophisticated even with randomized controlled trials on yoga with significant sample sizes.
As this evidence grows it won’t be surprising that yoga becomes increasingly adopted and mainstreamed in our health care system. We already see if being adopted in a variety of institutional ways such as being offered in prisons. It is also being recommended and supported by a diverse range of doctors and health plans.
Which yoga is best for mental health?
There are so many different types of yoga out there. You’ve probably heard of some of the main ones like Ashtanga, Kundalini, or Vinyasa and Dharma. They all have a lot of differences when you get into it and some people really gravitate to one over the other. However they all also help with the same benefits discussed above. So best thing is to try out some different classes and see what works for you. For many people as they get more into yoga they end up transitioning from one to the other so its not like you have to stick with one specific type.
So the short answer here is that the best yoga for your mental health is the yoga that works for you! This may take some trial and error and its best to view it as that and a journey of discovery. However if you are looking for something with a more physical exercise element to it then its probably best to first give ashtanga or vinyasa a try as this will really keep your body moving and make you sweat. If you’re looking for something more calming and meditative then Kundalini may be a good place to start.
If you’re really unsure then check out a local studio and see if they have a variety of classes. Most studios offer a joining deal where you can try a bunch of different classes for a period of time at a price much lower than if you were to pay for each class at full price. It’s worth shopping around and trying this out to see what class works for you — and that may include the yoga style, studio itself, or even the teacher and his/her style.
How does it help you with your reproductive health?
If you’re ready this and have had you’re own experience we’d love to hear about it. Drop it in the comments here below or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to share you experience in a another blog post if you’re up for it!
In the meantime happy stretching and breathing!