Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to help break the stigmas surrounding mental illness. And a public dialogue concerning mental health has never been more crucial as there has been a steep increase in reports of depression and anxiety. To honor this important issue, we wanted to explore the ancient art of yoga and how a peaceful yoga practice can benefit the brain. While yoga is no replacement for clinical treatment, it has been proven effective at helping the brain fight depression, stress, and anxiety. For these reasons, we consider it a great form of self-care and support to anyone on their mental health journey.
The Emergence of Yoga at The Dawn of Civilization
It’s been nearly 5,000 years since yoga emerged as a spiritual practice in the Indus-Saraswati Civilization. Derived from the Sanskrit word for “yoke” or “union,” yoga’s now one of the most popular forms of exercise and is practiced worldwide. Despite its ancient roots, yoga’s benefits are more relevant than ever.
As its etymology suggests, yoga unifies the mind, body, and soul. It grounds us when we’re feeling untethered and balances our reaction to stress and difficult emotions.
The Benefits of Yoga on the Nervous System
While we may enjoy modern conveniences and technology, our nervous system does not. In today’s society, things like the news, television, social media, and economic strife keep us in a constant state of arousal, which wreaks havoc on our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. The HPA axis controls our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The former kickstarts our fight or flight response, while the latter, referred to as PNS, promotes relaxation and reduces stress.
Almost all forms of yoga emphasize controlled breathing. Particular yogic breathing techniques like pranayama help activate the PNS, which signals the heart to slow down, decrease blood pressure, and relax the muscles. Our brain interprets the changes in our body and reacts by lowering the fight or flight response and slipping deeper into a meditative state.
Even thirty minutes of respite from the constant barrage of information can balance our nervous system so that we’re alert but less reactive to stress and more emotionally resilient.
Yoga also influences the production of “feel good” brain chemicals that play a key role in happiness. Additionally, inverted yoga poses, like forward bends, headstands, and downward dogs, help increase blood circulation to the brain. This, in turn, balances our hormones, fights inflammation, and lowers the expression of the stress hormone cortisol.
SBAC Peaceful Yoga Classes For Emotional Wellbeing
Yoga incorporates mindfulness by directing awareness to your senses, which grounds you and your body in the present. At SBAC, we offer eight different yoga classes, including yoga sculpt, power yoga, and yoga levels 1 and 2. However, if you want a more inward experience, we recommend checking out the following classes:
This class is a great introduction to yoga and is based on a modern yoga practice called “Hatha.” Gentle yoga instructors typically go at a slower pace and introduce less intense postures. They also spend extra time focusing on breathwork and meditation.
Our restorative yoga class seeks to achieve physical, mental, and emotional relaxation. The poses are easy and restful, and students are encouraged to use props that help them get even more comfortable. This is not a class focused on achieving physical fitness but, rather, on mental fitness. Both gentle and restorative yoga involves a lot of breath work and meditation, which, as we stated earlier, helps balance your nervous system.
These classes are sequences of flowing yoga poses focusing on the connection between movement and breath. This class is more active and athletic than gentle yoga and restorative yoga but will incorporate both restful and inverted postures, the latter of which will lower stress hormones and increase brain chemicals that fight depression and anxiety.
By connecting movement and breath, yoga flow creates a mind-body connection. It incorporates mindfulness by directing awareness to your senses, which ground you and your body in the present moment.
Even if you don’t suffer from depression, anxiety, or related symptoms, you can still enjoy the incredible benefits of peaceful yoga. Plus, it creates space for you to shut off the external noise and go inward.
Protect Your Mental Health With Santa Barbara Athletic Club’s Exclusive Promotion
An exercise routine is only one component of managing your mental health. That’s why SBAC is celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month by offering 50% off the membership initiation fee and a 6-Month FREE Membership to the meditation app, Headspace. Call us today for more information about this exciting opportunity!