When most people think of yoga, the physical postures are the first to come to mind. They see the students bending, folding, twisting, and balancing and assume that yoga is an exercise intended to benefit the body.
While these postures are beneficial, they serve a greater purpose — one key aspect of yoga that is often overlooked: the mind.
Yoga has long been known to offer several mental health benefits, from reducing stress and anxiety to improving cognitive function and memory. If you’ve ever been curious about why it’s not just your body that feels so good when you practice yoga, here’s some insight into what’s unraveling in your mind each time you roll out your mat.
Yoga enhances clarity and calmness.
Yoga enhances clarity and calmness by teaching you how to focus on the present moment. When we’re constantly living in our heads, it’s easy to get caught up in worry, stress, and negative thinking.
You learn how to quiet the mind and focus on the present through yoga’s combination of physical movement, breath work, and meditation. This newfound awareness carries off the mat and into your everyday life, helping you to manage stress and anxiety more effectively.
Yoga increases body awareness.
One of the first things you develop in yoga is a connection between your breath and movement. As you become more aware of your breath, you also cultivate awareness of how your body feels in each pose. This enhanced mind-body connection helps promote spatial awareness and prevent injuries as you learn to listen to your body’s cues and better understand its limits.
Yoga relieves chronic stress patterns.
Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced world, many of us live in a state of chronic stress, which can lead to health issues like high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Thankfully, the mind-body connection that yoga creates also helps to break the cycle of chronic stress.
Yoga is the practice of using our physical bodies as instruments to gain, receive, or let go of whatever we set our minds to. Although, in most cases, we all find relaxation, even if it’s not necessarily the reason we practice or the goal we seek.
With each heart-opening or back-bending posture or detoxifying twist, we release physical tension, reliving mental buildup and pressure with it. We create space for what serves us through intentional movement and opening up of the physical body.
Through building strength and flexibility, we train and empower our minds to let go of the rest – such as the negativity from others or the false narratives we tell ourselves. Yoga helps us learn to use our body as a tool to be mindful and present, so we can turn off the autopilot switch and choose whether or not we want feelings like stress to guide us through our days.
Yoga relaxes the mind.
Yoga provides us with an opportunity to slow down, connect with our bodies, and notice how we’re feeling both physically and emotionally. When we become more aware of how our bodies feel, it’s easier to catch stress and anxiety before they become larger issues.
Additionally, the breath work cultivated in yoga helps to retrain our nervous system to respond to stress more healthfully. When you can quiet your thoughts and focus on your breath, it’s much easier to find a sense of peace and calm.
Yoga sharpens concentration.
The ability to focus and concentrate is another important aspect of yoga that often gets overlooked. By teaching you how to quiet the mind and focus on your breath, yoga helps to sharpen your concentration. This improved focus can carry off the mat and into your everyday life, helping you be more mindful, disciplined, and efficient in everything you do.
Yoga centers attention.
Every moment on your yoga mat is an opportunity to ground yourself in the present and just be with your body and breath.
When you’re constantly bombarded with stimuli in life, it’s tough to focus on anything else. But when your mental chatter starts to gain momentum, yoga can be a guide that brings you back to the moment.
The ultimate goal of yoga for the mind is not to never have thoughts that steal your attention. Instead, it is to learn how to decipher which thoughts are worthy of your energy and how to bring your focus back when the unwelcome ones aim to carry you away.
So, the next time you step onto your mat, remember that you’re not just doing it for the physical benefits. You’re also giving your mind a chance to reset, relax, and recharge. And that’s something we could all use a little more of in our lives.