Stretching your body may be a key to better mental health.
“Yoga appears to blunt the harmful effects of heightened stress by influencing the body’s response to stress,” the Harvard Health Publications’ website suggests.
“This is reflected in slower heart and breathing rates and lower blood pressure, all of which are good for the body.”
Although yoga’s effect on mental health has been studied since the 1970s, this evidence was only presented in the April 2009 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.
“When people have anxiety or issues [with] depression it’s always inside their head [and yoga] is learning to get outside of those thoughts and connecting with inhaling and exhaling, simple at that,” says Maria Berlando, a yoga instructor working out of the SAIT gym.
Berlando has been a yoga instructor for the past 14 years and fully believes it can benefit those with certain mental health issues by relieving stress and anxiety.
“Even the meditating [in yoga], focusing on being in your body and breathing, is really helpful for a lot of people.”
She admits that she herself uses this method when she is under a lot of stress.
Berlando notes that “the feedback people give” after participating in her class highlight “the relaxing benefits and the focus.”
“It’s a really good self-care method that can have many beneficial effects,” says Marta Edgar, an education counsellor working at the Student Development and Counselling Centre on SAIT campus.
Edgar has been a counsellor for the past 11 years and has been practicing yoga regularly herself for the past year.
Although yoga can be practiced by anyone, Edgar wouldn’t recommend it to everyone with mental health issues such as stress or anxiety.
A person must first identify the problem causing stress in his or her life.
While yoga can provide distraction and relaxation to those who need it, Edgar points out that sometimes the best way to relieve stress is to solve whatever problem is causing it in the first place.
“If what’s stressing you out is a solvable problem and you are not solving it, taking your mind off [it] is not going to help for long,” said Edgar.
She also sees where yoga has its limits.
“I think it’s worth trying [but] not everybody is ready for it – not everybody is ready for this kind of practice so if [a] person isn’t ready [he or she] probably won’t benefit.”
Since there are many forms of yoga, Edgar believes the type one practices and where one practices will be a factor when trying to relieve stress.
So if you take it bare bones, just stretching can be good to relieve stress [because] you are taking a break for yourself and doing something that will benefit your body. – Marta Edgar
When just beginning yoga, she recommends that people “try several different classes and figure out what they want” and acknowledges even the most basic form is beneficial.