Guest blogger: Louise Bennett (Chintanshuddhi)
The benefits of yoga on the body are well documented, but many people don’t know that yoga is seriously good for mental health too. Studies have even shown that regular yoga can prevent or dramatically improve the symptoms of Alzheimers and other forms of dementia.
You don’t have to practise intense yoga to reap its multitude of mental health benefits. Gentle yoga is often more powerful because it can reach deeper. I’ve experienced this first-hand with my own practice over the years, and through teaching yoga and meditation.
Mental benefits of yoga
All this equals a happier you!
The following yogic breathing practices are very easy and anyone can practise them safely. Try doing them as a mini-practice once a day for a week and see how you feel.
I personally benefit hugely from doing these before sleeping. It’s great to wind down after a busy day and reduce the mental impressions accumulated over the course of the day. This is also a great way to have sweeter dreams – to avoid strong, exhausting dreams or nightmares, which are usually caused by unresolved stress and tension in the brain.
Note that these practices may be performed sitting on a chair if that’s more comfortable for you than sitting on the floor. Or you can prop yourself up in bed with a comfy cushion supporting your spine.
Practice 1: Full yogic breathing (2-3 mins)
This is a super-quick stress-buster, and can be done anywhere, anytime. It also just brings you back to centre, no matter what your mental state is.
Take it slow if you’ve not done any yogic breathing before.
Sit or lie down with one hand on the belly and one on the chest to help track the movement of the breath. Start to breathe in a long, smooth, relaxed way through the following sequence:
Inhale – start at the belly, then slowly roll the inhalation up into rib cage, and finally the upper chest and shoulders (until your inhalation is completely full).
Exhale – Slowly roll the breath down from the upper body and finish at the belly (until there’s no air left in the lungs).
Rounds: Repeat 10 times or more, until there is control over the breathing process. Try not to force the breath – it should be a smooth, wave-like movement.
Benefits: All the stale air will be expelled from the lungs on the exhalation, and the inhalation will bring fresh air to all parts of the lungs. Mentally, you will find this practice calming and energising. It brings focus and clarity, and can also serve as a mini-meditation when you focus exclusively on counting the rounds and following the movement of the breath.
Practice 2: Humming breath (2-3 mins)
This is a tranquilizing practice which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, relaxing the mind and relieving stress quickly. It’s also a powerful way to transcend mundane states of mind.
Sit comfortably with the spinal cord erect, and the head and neck in line with the spine. Close your eyes. Take a couple of deep breaths in and out, just letting go . . .
Now relax the jaw with the lips lightly touching and the teeth slightly parted. Raise the arms sideways, elbows bent, and use the index fingers to plug the ears, so that you can’t hear outside sounds. (Note: The flaps of the ears may be pressed if you wish to avoid placing fingers directly into the ears.)
Breathe in deeply through the nose and exhale as slowly as possible while making a steady, controlled humming sound. The sound should be smooth and continuous for the duration of the exhalation. The reverberation is felt in the front of the skull.
Rounds: Practise 8-10 rounds.
Benefits: Relieves stress, anxiety and may reduce high blood pressure. It can also help alleviate anger and insomnia. Try 10-20 rounds before sleeping at night and see the quality of your sleep improve.
Note: This practice is called Bhramari Pranayama in Sanskrit. It is an ancient yogic breathing practice that gives the added benefits of a mini-meditation.
So, you’ve just done about 4-6 minutes of yoga breathing (if you’ve done both practices). How do you feel?
I sincerely hope that you find some benefit in these practices. If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to send a message via the contact form.
Please SHARE this post if you find it beneficial. It may help someone who really needs help! Yoga can change the quality of a person’s life, even simple practices like the ones above.
And for more quality information about yoga’s effects on the brain and mental health, I can recommend these two websites:
About the guest author
Louise Bennett (Chintanshuddhi) lived for many years in India, studying and teaching yoga and meditation in a traditional ashram. She now lives in the Blue Mts, near Sydney (Australia). She is a yoga and meditation teacher, soon to be offering workshops at UYoga Studio in Katoomba, Blue Mts.
She is also a freelance copywriter, specialising in the wellness markets.
Her website: louisebennettcopywriter.com