"Yoga" is not a foreign concept these days. It has been on the rise for years now, and we all have a friend or coworker who we lovingly refer to as a 'yogi', who probably is very zen and healthy, and who's entire existence revolves around making sure they get their meditation time in every day.
Often times, it's sort of been brushed off as a 'hippy' activity - namely because in the early 1960's, Americans like Richard Hittleman and Lilias Folan (the "First Lady of Yoga") began to televise a more approachable (and do-able) version of yoga to a much wider audience. That, added with the uptick in peace, love, and happiness, and we saw yoga really starting to taking off.
But what is yoga?
Yoga, in it's origination, is a Hindu spiritual discipline. It includes aspects of breath control and meditation while posing your body in very specific postures. The entire purpose is to align body and mind, providing harmony to a person's life. A connection between mind and body, and body and earth - the origination of the word 'yoga' comes from Sanskrit root 'yuj', which means 'union' or 'connection', and the affects that it can have on your mental health prove it's original intention still holds true today.
Yoga can have a lot of positive effects on a person's wellbeing. Take the body positioning for example - practicing yoga helps with blood flow, muscle strength, and flexibility. Better blood flow and strength means that everything works better! When your body is healthy, your brain reflects that health. Doing yoga creates new connections between the cells in your brain, which can improve your cognitive functions like memory, attention, and learning. Looking at the meditation and breath work aspects as well, it is easy to see the correlation between yoga and mental health.
Remember when you were a kid, and you'd get really upset at something and your mom would tell you to just "take a deep breath"? There's a reason for that, beyond your mom needing you to calm down. Breathing, and the means in which we are breathing, is extremely important - panic and anxiety attacks often cause rapid breathing, or a feeling like something heavy is on your chest and you just can't seem to get enough air. Learning how to control your breathing through breath work learned practicing yoga can help you manage any attacks that may be brought on as a symptom of your anxiety disorder, help level out unhealthy stress in daily situations, and can even relieve anger issues and help with pain relief.
Meditation has an equal part to play in the importance of yoga's effects on mental health. The purpose of meditation is to ground and center yourself, to bring yourself back into the present and current moment, and to be at peace with everything around you. You take all the wild thoughts, the worries, the stresses, and let them be. A big part of grounding yourself is coming to terms with the fact that sometimes, life is what it is - sometimes you have no control, and you cannot be at peace if you are harboring things out of your control. Releasing these stressors is extremely positive for your mental health, and your mental health journey.
With yoga being said to be originated long before the beginning of time itself, and with the consistent rise we have watched over the last 50 years, it's safe to say that yoga isn't going anywhere. And why should it? All humans deserve the ability to find peace, to find relaxation, and to find comfort in the lives that they are living - flexibility, physical strength, and a sense of serenity are a pretty impressive bonus when it comes to taking care of your mental health.
Yoga is often times a much more affordable alternative to therapy that can be utilized in place (or in tandem) with a mental health professional. If traditional therapy isn't right for you, maybe your local yoga studio is the place to try next - and with so many different varieties to explore (hot yoga, cannabis yoga, and even goat yoga) you're sure to find a studio for you.