People Told Me Yoga Would Help My Mental Health, And They Were Right
"It’s easy to dismiss yoga and other alternative solutions for mental health issues, but pushing past your initial resistance might be surprisingly beneficial."
We’re all weary of girls on the Instagram explore page in coordinating activewear preaching about how yoga has “changed their lives”. We’re sick of counsellors and doctors suggesting that we “just try it”. We’re tired of our friends saying how “refreshed” it makes them feel. But what if they were all right?
I was pretty suss about yoga for a while. How is getting sweaty and bending in weird ways supposed to be good for your brain? But my mum kept saying how much she wanted to try it, and after I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder I was keen to do pretty much anything that might help. If it was bad, we could just laugh about it afterwards and never go again.
Exhaustion Mixed With Endorphins
We sweated and panted through the class, hurting muscles we didn’t know we had. We looked at each in horror when the teacher demonstrated backbends and handstands. We nearly stacked it attempting a lotus pose. And we loved it.
After the class, I was amazed at how calm I felt. Focusing all my mental energy into getting the poses correct, and holding them, wiped the anxious thoughts from my mind. The breathing exercise at the end is very similar to guided meditations that mental health professionals recommend, and it has the same focusing effect. Exhaustion mixed with endorphins made me feel sleepy and serene, which was a welcome change from the constant over-alertness of anxiety.
Bigger Than Your Body
To say that I wasn’t a sporty kid is a massive understatement. So until I tried yoga I never really experienced the feeling that my body is more than just something that gets me where I need to go – it can be strong and powerful too. And now I can appreciate exercising for the sake of it, not just losing weight. The satisfaction of improving and pushing my body past what I thought was its limit is enough to make me keep coming back. I still can’t touch my toes sitting down, but I can do a shoulder stand! Next I’m gonna nail a headstand.
“…my body is more than just something that gets me where I need to go – it can be strong and powerful too.”
Now comes the caveat: it’s not magical. I wasn’t a better person after spending an hour and a half each week bending my body. It didn’t magically cure me of mental illness symptoms, or give me glowing skin and abs. But combined with therapy and some lifestyle changes, it made a pretty big difference in my state of mind.
Even though my anxiety is a lot more manageable now, I’ll keep going to classes. Even if your mental health is great, yoga can clear your head and give you a boost of endorphins. For me, and maybe you, knowing I have to show up at a regular time each week and having a teacher guide me (and yell a little bit) is a lot more effective at motivating me to exercise than vague resolutions to “get fit”.
So this isn’t another article insisting that you assume a downward dog RIGHT NOW. Do you. But I reckon you should give it a go, and if you hate it then you never have to try it again. It’s easy to dismiss yoga and other alternative solutions for mental health issues, but pushing past your initial resistance might be surprisingly beneficial.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, you can find help by seeking advice from a counsellor or calling Lifeline on 13 11 14.