yoga for mental health

Amanda Wright came to yoga two years after suffering serious injuries from a motorbike accident. Slight brain damage caused ‘interesting’ changes to her behaviour. Over a decade later, she’s a devoted yoga teacher sharing breath and moving meditation as a way to support mental health. As part of World Mental Health Day, we’ve asked Amanda to share more from her unique, all-encompassing perspective.

This month is stress awareness month, which is fabulous, but I feel everyday there should be a stress awareness shout out.

This world of ours, where striving and pushing ourselves beyond our limits is seen as a good thing, something to be valued, has a tendency to take people to a place where the mind and body get overstressed. This overdoing creates various mental health issues, including burn out, chronic fatigue, addictions and a lack of self-love because of not feeling “good” enough or like you can never “do” enough.

There is a certain amount of stigma associated with mental health, which means that people can have a tendency to ignore the tell-tale signs of stress. A common example of this is losing the ability to use the breath to settle. This causes an onset of panic as the breath is forgotten and even held.

We need to see that mental health is no different to physical health, and that the body and mind are intrinsically linked. We need to support and affect each other. Yoga is an insightful practice that allows us to see this connection and helps to support our physical and mental well-being.

Though using the breath as an anchor and bringing us more into the body, yoga allows us to be more spacious in the mind. This brings about a “letting go” of fixing, fantasising and fabricating, potentially cultivating a more relaxed state.

From teaching yoga for adults with mental health issues, stress and anxiety, I see the damage pushing ourselves beyond our limits can do. I also see how becoming embodied through yoga and the breath is so very helpful for these symptoms. I see people leaving the space so much lighter and more relaxed then when they came in.

A simple way to ease overthinking

We probably all recognise how we can get carried away with ourselves mentally and lose connection with the breath and body. A small issue can become very quickly overwhelming as we become in a sense obsessed with it. This can become very overwhelming, so it is useful to always remember the breath. The breath is used as a tool in meditation because, for most people, it doesn’t cause any emotional reactions. It helps pull us back into the present and then, hopefully, to being more grounded – giving us a glimpse of calmness.

We all spend so much time in our heads. It’s so useful to remember to bring our awareness to where we feel the parts of the body on our mat, or where ever we are with regards to feeling the feet on the ground. Then bring our awareness to the belly, which brings us to a sense of being at home in ourselves and then to the breath. If we are feeling overwhelmed mentally, we can always bring more focus onto the exhale or even enhance the exhale. We do this because the exhale is connected to the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) – rest and digest. This helps stimulate the vagus nerve – the nerve which helps switch from our sympathetic nervous (fight or flight) to the PNS.

How I found yoga

I came to yoga after suffering some serious injuries from a motorbike accident. It took me two years from the time of the accident to get to a yoga class. I had suffered a head injury which had caused slight damage to my brain and was causing me to behave in ways that were, let’s say, “interesting”.

My first yoga class was life-changing with regards to feeling what I now believe was more connected to my body and breath and producing a lightness and spaciousness I had not experienced before. That lead me to explore more. Eventually somehow through yoga, my injuries eased and I wasn’t so reactive. I am not suggesting yoga is a miracle cure for everyone, but for me personally and for many people I have taught over the last 12 years, it most certainly seems to be.

An invitation to join

So, if you are curious or struggling with what you might feel are mental health issues, come and explore being embodied and breathing through yoga and other mindfulness activities such as meditation or qigong. It might only bring you to a more relaxed space for a few moments initially but be patience and eventually more will come.

Click here to join Amanda for a yoga class at triyoga.

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