This week, our very own Chantelle Browne talks to us about what Yoga can do to help us through mental health struggles.  

PLEASE REMEMBER: BEFORE EMBARKING ON A NEW EXERCISE ROUTINE, FOLLOW ADVICE FROM A QUALIFIED TUTOR AND SEEK ADVICE FROM YOUR DOCTOR IF AT ALL UNSURE OF IT’S SUITABILITY.

I’m a huge believer in the benefits that Yoga can bring to your life. I’ve seen the difference it can make first hand, which is why I did my Yoga Teacher Training last year and honestly, it not only changed my Yoga practice but my life! So, before I get into the mental health benefits of Yoga, what is it?

Yoga originated in India around 5000 years ago and is more of a lifestyle than it is just a physical practice. However, when most people think of Yoga, they think of the benefits it brings your body, like strength and flexibility, but it also brings so many benefits to the mind, like reducing anger, stress, anxiety and depression. Yoga can be such a nourishing and healing practice for all forms of mental health conditions.

Practicing Yoga can help reduce anxiety and stress. After just a few minutes of Yoga, you can go from a state of fight-or-flight to a state of rest. You move from your sympathetic nervous system to your parasympathetic nervous system. This is a huge help for anyone who is anxious or worried, which, let’s be fair, is pretty much all of us at one time or another. A large part of Yoga is Pranayama which is the practice of regulating the breath – “Prana” meaning breath and “Ayama” meaning control. The breath in Yoga is considered to be the life force and the benefits of practising Pranayama are vast – it can help increase in energy levels, decrease stress, anxiety and depression, it can help to stabilise blood pressure and relax the mind and body.

Breathing exercises are a great way of reducing fairly quickly some of the symptoms of anxiety a lot of people struggle with, without anyone really noticing you’re doing anything. There are many different exercises you can do, but a good one to start with is deep belly breathing.

Sitting comfortably, begin by bringing one hand to your stomach, relax your belly muscles and inhale slowly and completely through your nose. You should feel your belly expand with the air filling your lower lungs, continue inhaling filling the middle and then the upper parts of your lungs, expanding your chest. Then begin a slow exhale out through your nose, emptying from the top, then middle then bottom parts of your lungs.

Check in with yourself – how are you feeling? If you feel ok, you can continue this for about a minute, see if you feel any benefits from it. It can take a bit of time to get used to and so it can be easier to practice when you are feeling ok and then when you’re more confident with the exercise, try it when you begin to feel a bit anxious about something.

Yoga can make you more centred and in tune with yourself and your needs, it literally brings your focus back to you. Recently I hurt a muscle in my shoulder while driving in my car and it seemed to take a very long time to show any sign of healing. I started to get frustrated and annoyed that there seemed to be no progress. I had to learn to stop and slow down and when it hurt, not push my body, and allow it that time to heal. This has made me be more in tune with my own body and that sometimes I need to slow down and give myself the time and space I need to recover.

Yoga can help hugely reduce stress, depression, and help improve energy and tolerance to pain. Exercise increases production of the brains ‘happy’ chemicals (Serotonin and Dopamine) and Yoga is no different. Just 12 minutes of Yoga a day can help make a difference in mood.

I gained a huge level of self-belief and confidence from my Yoga practice. It’s about finding those few minutes of me time in the day to help you slow down and believe in yourself, for you. Only you – and no one else! This is your practice and your time. The self-belief I gained has helped me cope with many hard times and has been crucial to me on my path to recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder.

I’m not perfect, but no one is, and that’s the beauty of life. We are all human and we all make mistakes.

I love life with Yoga, it has taught me so many things. It has changed my life!

Love and light always

Chantelle xx

P.S. Look out for Spark’s “Take 5” daily Yoga posts through the whole of February!