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Mental health awareness includes emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects our thinking, feelings, and actions, and is important throughout our whole lives. Mental health affects how we handle stress, make decisions and act around others.
If we experience a mental health problem, our thinking, mood, and behavior could be affected. Many factors could contribute to mental health problems, including our genetic makeup, life experiences (such as trauma or abuse), or a family history of mental health problems.
Yoga is widely used as an alternative therapy, or in addition to medication, to help relieve the symptoms of, and help people to manage mental health problems. These symptoms can include insomnia or disturbed sleep patterns, emotional outbursts, feelings of guilt or lack of self-worth, changes in eating habits, and lack of motivation and energy.
My personal mental mealth journey began in 2008 when I started university in Kingston, Surrey. This my first time living away from home. I desperately missed my friends and family and struggled to settle into university life. It took a long time for me to admit I was struggling and that I was so unhappy. However, finally, with the help of my family, I accepted that I needed help, and needed to remove myself from the situation that was causing me so much unhappiness.
It was not until 2012 that I found yoga, thanks to one of my best friends bringing me along to a class in my home island of Guernsey. I immediately loved it, and never looked back. I have been practicing yoga ever since that first class, and last year trained with Anne-Marie Newland to gain my Sun Power Yoga teaching qualification. My dream is to share the wonderful path of life that is yoga, and if I can, help others with mental health problems to seek recovery and wellness through their own yoga practice.
Here are the ways that I feel yoga helps me to relieve and manage my own depression struggles, and why I feel yoga has truly been a blessing and a gift to my life:
• Yoga teaches us acceptance. There are times when we desperately want to come out of a pose and have to work so hard to use the breath to stay with it. We accept that we have to stay in the pose and ease into it, allowing our body to find the space it needs to get comfortable. Similar feelings arise in our life. We are overwhelmed with emotions, sadness or grief, and need to apply this same acceptance and ability to stay with these feelings, work through them, and eventually in time they will ease and subside.
• Yoga allows us to move from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system (i.e from 'fight or flight' to 'rest and digest' mode). Yoga focuses on using the breath. By lengthening and deepening the breath, slowing it down, the body and mind become more relaxed and move out of flight mode.
• Yoga encourages us to always remain in the present moment, rather than letting our mind wander off into past events or planning for the future. Depression often involves thoughts of guilt, worry or fear of past events, or future events that may happen (or may not). By focusing on our breath and bringing ourselves back to the present moment, we help balance and control these unruly thoughts.
• Yoga helps us to look at our body in a different way--recognizing its strength, flexibility, and endurance. It encourages us to become non-judgemental towards ourselves and our own self-worth.
• Practicing asanas (postures) reduces the release of stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline, by inducing a relaxation response instead.
• Yoga encourages a healthy lifestyle and diet, which can help us feel better inside and out. This, in turn, helps improve our mood and self-confidence.
Whether you yourself have experienced or are experiencing depression, or have a friend or family member with a mental health issue, I strongly encourage yoga as a means to recovery and well-being. It may be scary turning up to your first class, but yoga is about non-judgment and non-comparison. Once you get on your mat, that is your solitary space and all you need to focus on is your breath, and the teacher guiding you.
Never let a bump in the road be the end of the journey.