The science behind yoga and meditation for mental health
As we said, exercise is a great thing to introduce to your life if you want to improve your mental health. Regardless of what type and at what level you participate, there really is something amazing about getting your heart rate going slightly as often as you can.
As a calming exercise and mindful activity, yoga and meditation work in harmony with one another, and can both be incredibly beneficial for your mental health.
As a form of exercise, yoga is great for both strength training and conditioning, as well as helping mental health. This slow and relaxed practice is easy for people of any fitness level to start and can be done for little to no money.
A great way to start the day, or to unwind at the end of it, it’s easy to find yoga flows (routines) that are perfect for your level online. However, if you feel like you need some support to get started, there are great teachers, classes and workshops all around the country.
Meditation is simply the practice of taking time to increase your awareness and perspective. Headspace, a popular app for those looking to start meditation describes it as “training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgment. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.”
Many people hail the process for helping them feel better connected to themselves and their emotions. In the long run, people who meditate can find that they will be better equipped to predict how they are going to feel and react to certain events. This practice means that they are able to prepare themselves better and therefore, minimise potential stress.
Talking to the experts about their experiences
In order to find out some first-hand accounts of the benefits of both yoga and meditation, we reached out to a range of people who practice them to ask for their experiences. Read what they had to say below.
David, Mind and Body Movement
David practices yoga and meditation alongside many other disciplines and even teaches classes and workshops in both. He told us what drew him to them: “I initially started yoga as a support to other sporting and martial arts practices that I followed. At first, I was purely drawn to the physicality of the practice, but over time I’ve come to appreciate the wider mind-body benefits of yoga and meditation. I came for the stretching and flexibility and stayed for the introspection and relaxation.”
David then explained how yoga and meditation have affected his life: “From a physical point of view yoga has really helped keep me mobile and flexible, and it’s also given me a much better functional understanding of my body compared to traditional gym activities.
“But I think the main benefit is unquestionably the benefits you gain from mindful practice, focused yoga and mindful meditation. You learn to be more aware of yourself, to respond and not react, and that has had profound beneficial effects on my life.”
Niamh, Beeja Meditation
Niamh is a part of the team at Beeja Meditation, a company that helps teach meditation in London. She explained her personal journey to us: “I was always interested in personal development and have been intuitive since a child. Years of compounding stress, trauma and life-changing events led me to follow my passion for wellness and to leave the corporate world that I had been working in for 15 + years. I had been meditating for a number of years by myself and when I moved to London from abroad, I came across Beeja meditation. This particular practice resonated with me in a very powerful way. Immediately, I could feel great shifts within me and could see positive changes in my life. I began to feel a greater sense of balance, peace and calm. It had such an impact on me that I wanted more people to benefit from this ancient healing tool and technique and under the guidance of my teacher, I went on a journey to become a meditation teacher myself. I believe that we have unlimited potential and unlimited opportunities available to us and that meditation is the key to unlocking and driving this personal growth.”
Niamh discussed the benefits of yoga and meditation: “The benefits have been endless, the greater sense of calm and balance that I now feel is as a result of meditation and an ancient technique I practice called rounding. Rounding is a sequence of yoga asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing) and meditation, it deeply conditions the body to release deep-rooted stress and bring the nervous system into balance. In general, we are over-producing stress chemicals and under-producing endorphins because of the way we now live. I was living in a way where I was taking too much on, chasing my tail and living in a fight or flight response, always 'on'. I feel my reactivity to situations is less, my thoughts are clearer and I have seen an increase in my creativity and productivity.”
Richard, Creative Wellness
Richard’s passion for wellness has taken him to the five specialisms of acupuncture, yoga, meditation, holistic education and body-mind connection. He explained how his journey started: “My first engagement with yoga and meditation came when I was doing an adventure bus trip across the USA when I was 19. The bus was full of great, vibrant people, a lot of whom were talking about yoga in particular and even then, the essence of what they conveyed hooked me. One day I sat opposite a girl on the same journey, she had her eyes closed but she wasn’t asleep as she still had such a presence, such a peaceful presence, it entranced me and I thought, ‘ah, she’s meditating’. Heading back to the UK afterwards I sought out as much yoga and meditation as I could fit into my weekly schedule. I found while practising that it was a ‘place I could go’ where I felt peaceful no matter what was happening in my life. In fact, even if my mind was in distress it still gave me on another level some sense of liberation as for me, when I do those practices I also connect to a part of me that I feel is deeper – the soul, for want of a better word.”
We spoke to Richard about how wellness has benefitted his life: “After time I began to notice more subtle benefits – like helping with perspective. So if my mind is particularly busy on a given day, I can reflect on what I may have been doing in my life that could have created that distress in my nervous system – so it helps to move my default balance point from one of inner chaos to greater inner peace, and then watch what the things are in my life that disturb me – so I can change them.
“I also find it helps me to get closer to what I feel is my own deepest inner voice of wisdom (which I feel is my heart) and start to navigate my life from there rather than from my intellect, so I start to live my passions and feel more fulfilled.
“And finally, it’s helped me to deepen my own area of professional expertise of the body-mind connection and actually how different aspects of your physiology – specifically organs – influence the inner chatter you hear in your mind!”
Chris, Yoga Therapies
Chris is a yoga teacher at Yoga Therapies. He explained how the door to yoga was opened for him: “I was first drawn to yoga as a long-distance runner looking for a way to improve my mobility and my breathing. At the time there wasn’t much around, and it necessitated an hour round trip to reach my nearest class. I quickly realised yoga would play a key role in my life moving forward but it wasn’t until I moved to Newcastle that things really began to fall into place... suddenly classes were in walking distance and on multiple days of the week and I began to practice earnestly.”
Chris explained the effect yoga has had on his life: “I wouldn’t necessarily say from day to day that I was aware of the changes that were occurring in my body and in my thinking... but when challenging situations arose, I was able to see the incredible resilience and strategy my practice had been quietly building.
“I began to apply the techniques I was working with personally in professional settings where I was supporting adults with what were termed “challenging personality disorders” and was amazed at the changes I could see. At that point, I changed my trajectory and dedicated myself to the study of yoga and haven’t looked back since!
“In many ways, yoga truly is unique. The deliberate focusing of attention throughout controlled movement works to establish a greater level of internal trust. We quite literally transform our bodies into a safe place that gives us the solid foundation necessary to explore and to develop and to begin the process of unpicking and releasing our tensions.
“The combination of breathing techniques and varying loci of awareness additionally lead to a greater impact on the individual as the multiple elements ensure that their brain is paying attention. Involving more frontal and “higher” levels of processing has the result that the incoming information is received as a high priority. When engaged with correctly, yoga then has incredible power to begin transforming aspects of ourselves that may previously have felt impossibly stubborn.”
Nathalie, Live Love Yoga
Nathalie is a yoga instructor and was very happy to discuss how yoga has helped her: “I was initially drawn to yoga as a way to stretch and strengthen my body. However, I quickly began to feel the benefits to my wellbeing. I had always been a bit of an anxious person and it made me feel calm and this drew me to continue to learn about it.
“Yoga has improved my strength and flexibility. It has also helped me to accept and feel connected to my body. I am able to notice when I'm getting stressed and (if possible!) do things to counter this. However, yoga goes far beyond meditation and asana, and it is the study of the practice of yoga as a way of life that has really helped me.”
Helen, Relax Ya self to Health
Helen is a blogger who describes herself as someone who is unable to relax. She spoke to us about how yoga can help her manage her chronic illness: "I was drawn to yoga and meditation when my health mysteriously unravelled 3.5 years ago. I have a complicated chronic illness which causes my body to have severe allergic reactions - namely tongue and throat swellings - to things like food, sunlight, high impact exercise and stress. By nature, I'm 100 miles an hour and always on the go but my illness quite literally stopped me in my tracks. I soon become lost in a sea of negative thoughts and became fearful about the future. Then I discovered the Headspace meditation app and the Muse 2 meditation headband. Regular practice and breath-work has really helped me focus on the now, calm anxiety and tune into the way my body is feeling - which, along with the meds, is essential in terms of managing my condition.”
“I also have a newfound sense of awareness so instead of instantly reacting to a situation I've now started to observe it first before responding. This is great for managing the stress response in my body. If I can I try and do a yoga class in the morning, I love the strength, toning and grounding elements and find it a wonderful way to start the day in a positive frame of mind. It's also brilliant for improving my posture, which is not great as I spent most of my day hunched over a keyboard!”
So, whether you join us on a mindfulness and meditation boot camp or pop in for a relaxing spa treatment after a yoga session, we hope we can assist you on your journey to improve both yourself and your mental health.