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Why You Should Consider Yoga and Meditation


It is estimated that one in five adults will experience a mental illness in any given year with anxiety disorders as the leading cause. Mental illness is recognized when an individual shows ongoing signs and symptoms of stress that affect their ability to function. Mental illness may impact a person’s mood, behavior, and capacity to think or concentrate.

While those suffering from mental illness may feel alone, lost, or incapacitated, research has shown that along with diet and exercise, mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation can offer amazing benefits that may help some to reduce and/or manage symptoms of mental illness.

Benefits of Yoga

Yoga is one of the oldest body-and-mind practices in the world dating back nearly 5,000 years. Through the use of body positions and postures, breathing techniques, and mindful meditation, yoga provides several benefits to help manage your mental illness. Here are three.

Improves Heart Rate Variability

Heart Rate variability is based on how your heart rate varies when you inhale and exhale. A higher variability is an indicator of physical and mental resilience. Studies show that practicing yoga for as little as six weeks shows an improved heart rate variability as well as a lower resting heart rate; two indicators of a strong stress-response.

Cultivates Positive Thinking

Mental illness is often identified by chronic or frequent bouts of sadness, emptiness, and irritability that impacts a person’s ability to function. Studies have shown that the physical and mindfulness of yoga actually changes the long-term effects of how your brain responds to depression, in some ways acting as a natural antidepressant.

Creates Better Understanding of Self

The mindfulness and mental development promoted by yoga helps a person realize “shadow” qualities they did not know they possessed. Whether those qualities are empathy toward others, confidence, the ability to overcome obstacles, or greater control over mind and body, yoga can open profound possibility.


Benefits of Meditation

Meditation is the practice of achieving mental clarity and emotional calm through mindfulness and awareness techniques. The goal of meditation is to bring a person into the “now” while putting aside the stressors brought on by overthinking the past and future. Here are three ways meditation can benefit mental illness.

Improves Sleep

Insomnia is a leading cause of mental illness causing a disruption in your circadian rhythm and sleep patterns. Meditation helps to reduce insomnia and improve sleep quality by focusing your mind on the now rather than the past which cannot be changed and the future which is unpredictable. This awareness helps to place perspective on your surroundings and ease your mind of daily stress leading to a sounder sleep.

Reduces the Chemical Cytokines

Cytokines are inflammatory chemicals that your body releases in response to stress. They can have a negative impact on your mood and emotions. In fact, one scientific-based study on meditation showed significant measurable signs of positive thinking and optimism.

Can Control Pain

How you perceive pain has a direct connection to your state of mind. For people who experience mental illness, their perception of pain can be elevated while experiencing stressful conditions. Meditation has been shown to increase brain activity in areas that control pain. In fact, meditation is used to manage chronic pain for people with terminal illnesses such as cancer.

Yoga and meditation whether practiced independently or symbiotically have been shown to improve the negative effects of mental illness by creating mental and physical awareness, improving sleep, and directly impacting your body’s chemical imbalances to create a positive mental state of being. So, if you’re looking for a mindful way to manage mental illness, ten minutes of yoga or meditation is a great start.


About the Author:  Laurie is a writer based on the east coast who enjoys spending her days writing on health and wellness topics. In her free time, she loves doing anything that gets her outdoors breathing fresh air.






Yama #1: Practicing Ahimsa

I first learnt about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras while staying at an Ashram in Rishikesh, India. Patanjali discusses the eight limbs of yoga, the first of which is Yama. The five Yamas are a set of moral values. The first Yama in Sanskrit is called Ahimsa which means non-harming. It consists of being kind to yourself and all other living creatures.

Are you mindful of your thoughts, words and actions?

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Practicing Ahimsa starts as soon as you wake up in the morning. Most of the time we are in such a rush getting ready for work and organizing the day that we don’t take a moment to appreciate the simple things around us. For instance, the food in the fridge and cupboards, unlimited water right from the tap, the bed you slept in, the blankets that kept you warm. Try taking a moment to appreciate all the gifts that are easily at your grasp. Then praise yourself for being kind to your body by giving it rest, water, and food to provide yourself energy during the day. Additionally, how often do you reflect on the kind things you did for yourself and others throughout your day? Did you take time to do things you enjoy such as reading, cooking, or exercise? It is common to feel more energized and less stressed when you take time to engage in activities you enjoy.

A big phenomenon in today’s media saturated society is body image. It is common for people to start comparing themselves to the images they see in magazines and movies. Yet another way to practice Ahimsa is to love yourself, including your body and the abilities that you possess. Everyone has a different body structure and we are all unique beings – embrace the gifts and quirks you are given. Many people attend the gym or an exercise program that works for them, whether it is because they want to make healthy changes, gain self-confidence or relieve anxiety and stress. It is common for people to start feeling better about themselves after exercise. However, it is also important for everyone to listen to their body. When we don’t listen to our bodies, injuries, illnesses and negative self-talk can occur. For instance, if you are in a yoga class trying to hold tree pose but your balance is off, be kind to yourself. Our first reaction may be to think “why can’t I do this” or “your balance is not good enough.” Instead, it is important to let any judgment and expectation go. Praise yourself for showing up to your mat and practicing self-care.

Are you practicing Ahimsa toward other beings in your life? It is important to practice kindness not only with ourselves, but also with other people, creatures and the environment. Are you kind to the people and pets in your home? Are you taking time to wish them a good morning and ensuring they also get food, water and affection? Showing people and animals that you care about them makes them feel loved and valued. If you live on your own, make sure you take a look in the mirror and give yourself a smile and wish yourself a good morning. Do you greet people with a friendly smile on the street or when you enter your workplace? A smile can be contagious and can spread more positive vibes. Do you take an interest in other people by learning about them and effectively listening to what they are saying? Being in the present moment giving them your undivided attention shows the person they are important and what they have to say matters. Do you offer to help others, whether it is opening the door or simply offering your assistance if you see someone struggle? When you offer your help to others it not only benefits them, but it can also make you feel happier.

This blog asks several creative questions. These questions help you gain insight into your inner world and outer world, and help you to become the best version of yourself. You may notice some people do not smile back or offer a helping hand. It is still important to be kind with your words, thoughts and actions. Sometimes we don’t know what hardships other people are going through. It is important to be compassionate and pass no judgement.

Embrace the journey, we are all human and can make mistakes. As you practice Ahimsa, you’ll start diving into deeper self-reflection, find inner peace, and discover the gifts in your life.

Ahimsa is the first Yama, however there are still four more. The Yamas will be continued. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog about Ahimsa. Remember be kind to yourself and all other living beings.

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Stacey Harris, MSW, RSW

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