Mental Health Benefits of Yoga: The Healing Power of the Breath
Before reading this article, take notice to the way you are feeling right in this moment. Are you feeling anxious? Angry? Overwhelmed? Take a second to get in touch with your body and your mind.
Yoga. Union. Mind. Body. Spirit.
The word yoga actually means union. The purpose of yoga is to unify the mind, the body, and the spirit to create balance. A common misconception in society is that we need to “find” our balance or “find” our peace. However, what we really need to do is learn to create our peace, create our balance, and unify our mind, body, and spirit.
Place the palms of your hands together at the center of your chest. You are now in the position of “heart center.” Having your hands in this position is a way to create balance and peace. Now, take a deep breath in and raise your arms as you do so. Then, exhale and bring your hands back to heart center. Do this a few times at your own pace and then pause before continuing.
Notice your energy now. Are you feeling more relaxed? Calmer? More at ease? That is the power of the breath. How many times have you heard the phrase, “just take a deep breath” in moments when you may be struggling? Well, there is logic behind the simple act of taking a deep breath. Taking a breath literally calms the central nervous system–the system that controls much of how we regulate our bodies and minds.
In the world of mental health, taking a deep breath is a commonly used coping mechanism because of the power that the breath can exhibit. Through my experience as a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and through my yogic practice, I have learned that the most important tool I have is my breath. I frequently say, “I’m yoga breathing through it.” My breath helps to carry me through many different forms of pain–physical, emotional, and spiritual. It can help you, too. I feel fortunate to have shared the power of the breath in the groups that I lead in the inpatient psychiatric unit at Brook Lane. In my groups that incorporate yoga, I start the sessions the same way I began this article–by having the patients express how they are feeling at the beginning of session. Next, we take some deep breaths and then I ask them to become more aware of the difference in energy in the room. Most often, my patients will feel that the energy is calmer. This experience helps them to realize the power of the breath.
Breathing is one of the most important aspects of yoga because you can tap into it anywhere. If you can utilize your breath, you then gain control over your body and your mind. This will help you to deescalate yourself through tough situations in a way that is healthy and helpful.
It is amazing to think that something so easy can be so powerful. In the full practice of yoga, breathing is just the beginning. Once you have mastered the art of breathing, you can continue your yoga practice by learning positions, correct form, and poses; all of which can help you on your path to improved mental well-being.
It’s worth repeating that it is important to create your peace and balance rather than finding it. Many people who struggle with mental illness find this difficult because they feel that all odds are against them. However, learning to control your breath can help to make you feel more in control of the situation. When you feel like you aren’t in control, it can cause anxiety and stress. However, it’s important to remember that you can’t always be in control of everything, and that’s ok. What you can always control is your breath. Our ability to breathe comes from within. If you stop to take a deep breath, it will help to calm you down, which will allow you to pause and figure out how to create your balance and peace. If you can do that, you can create personal unity of the mind, body, and spirit. Creating that unity can help you feel more stable, improving your mental wellness and path to peace. Namaste.
Regina Palmer, LCPC, is a licensed clinical social worker providing therapy for adults in Brook Lane’s hospital. She has worked at Brook Lane for 6 years. Regina is a graduate of Shippensburg University, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. She holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Regina has been practicing yoga for over 10 years.