Yoga is practiced for many reasons, one of which being the benefits to your overall mental health. Practising yoga alleviates stress, allows you to be more mindful and helps you to take time out from a world that is all to often running at a very fast pace.
It also allows you to focus on your breathing. Breathing properly is essential for the mind. When we starve our brain of oxygen, it reaches for the negative areas when looking for an answer. It can also induce headaches and many other symptoms.
Many people who suffer from Anxiety and Depression find, that by practicing yoga regularly, they gain more control over their minds and their overall mental wellness. Personally I can vouch for this and would highly recommend the practice for anyone who may be going through a dark period in their life.
Even if your mental health is ok at the moment, it’s still a good idea to practice yoga, as it will help you to deal with the frustrating and difficult events that we are faced with regularly.
The following yoga poses will calm the mind and help to promote good mental health.
Lotus Pose – Padmasana
Description: Sit on the floor with your legs extended straight in front of you, spine straight, and arms resting at your sides. Bend your right knee and hug it to your chest. Then, bring your right ankle to the crease of your left hip and face the sole of your right foot to the ceiling. The top of your foot should rest on your hip crease. Bend your left knee and cross your left ankle over the top of your right shin. The sole of your left foot should also face upwards, and the top of your foot and ankle should rest on your hip crease.
Draw your knees as close together as possible and sit up straight. Rest your hands on your knees with your palms facing up. Bring your hands into Gyan Mudra by creating a circle with each index finger and thumb, keeping the rest of the fingers extended. Hold for up to one minute, or for the duration of your meditation.
Benefits: This is probably the most recognised pose as it is practiced by many during meditation. This pose calms the brain for meditation and lifts away stress and anxiety.
Common Postural Errors: Straining Your Knees. Tips: If you are struggling with getting into position, place a folded blanket under you so that your hips are above your knees.
Standing Forward Bend – Uttanasana
Description: From the Mountain Pose, exhale and bend forward from your hips, sweeping your arms to the sides, with your palms facing the floor. While lowering your torso, keep your back flat and tuck in your abdominal muscles to lengthen your spine. Keep folding your torso forwards until they are parallel to your legs (Or as close as you can get). Grasp the back of your ankles and contract your thighs to keep your knees as straight as possible.
With each exhalation, draw your sit bones upwards, elongating your spine and lengthening the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute before moving onto Standing Half Forward Bend.
Benefits: Relieves stress, stretches the spine, hips, calves and hamstrings while strengthening thighs and improving posture.
Common postural errors: Rolling the spine. Tips: If you find this difficult, then bend your knees as you bring your torso forward, and then straighten on each exhale afterwards.
Child Pose – Balasana
Description: Begin by kneeling on the floor, with your hips aligned over your knees. Bring your legs together so that your big toes are touching and lower your body to rest your buttocks on your heels, separating your knees. Exhale and lower your torso down to your inner thighs, elongating your neck and spine, while stretching your tailbone down toward the floor. Place your hands on the floor beside your feet, palms facing up the way. Relax your shoulders toward the floor, widening them across your upper back. Now place your forehead on the floor and hold for 30 seconds to 3 minutes.
Benefits: Relieves stress, stretches the spine, thighs and ankles.
Common Postural Errors: Compressing the back of the neck Tips: Inhale into the back of your rib cage and round your back to create a dome shape.
Corpse Pose – Savasana
Description: Start by sitting on the floor on your buttocks with your knees bent. Lift your hips and position your tailbone closer to your heels. Lengthen your back away from your tailbone before lowering your back to settle on the floor. One at a time, straighten your legs and allow them to fall open in a natural position. Your feet should end up turned out equally. Relax your arms by your sides, leaving a space between them and your torso. Spread your shoulders and turn your arms so that your palms face the sky.
Lengthen your neck away from your shoulders and release it comfortably towards the floor. Close your eye and concentrate on your breathing and alignment, relaxing every part of your body, start with your toes, moving right the way through your body and ending at your head. Hold for 5-10 minutes.
Benefits: This pose relaxes the entire body, calms the brain and alleviates stress.
Common Postural Errors: Moving after you’ve aligned your body or tensing any part of your body. Tips: pay attention to alignment initially and once you’re happy don’t move and start completely relaxed.
Cobra Pose – Bhujangasana
Description: From a prone position, place your palms under your shoulders and legs flat to the floor. On inhalation slowly raise your chest up, bending backwards as much as possible and hold for 10-15 seconds. On exhalation bring your body back down to the prone position. Repeat 5 times, taking a 15-second break between each hold.
Benefits: Relieves stress and fatigue while strengthening the spine and stretching the chest, shoulders, and abdomen. Also firms the buttocks.
Common postural errors: Overarching the neck and lower back. Tips: Keep your gaze directed down at the floor and focus on bringing movement into the area between the shoulder blades.
Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana
Description: From Upward Facing Dog, kneel on your hands and knees with your knees directly below your hips. Stretch your hands out slightly in front of your shoulders with your fingertips facing forward and hands should-width apart. Exhale and press against the floor keeping your elbows straight. Lift your sit bones up toward the ceiling and your knees away from the floor, lengthening your hips away from your ribs and elongating your spine. Press your heels against the floor, contract your thighs and try straightening your knees. Turn your thighs slightly inward and broaden your chest and shoulders. You should position your head in between your arms. Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
Benefits: Reduces anxiety, strengthens your arms and legs while stretching shoulders, calves and hamstrings.
Common postural errors: Sinking shoulders down into the spine. Tips: Focus on contracting your thighs and lengthening spine to stop shoulders from sinking.
Warrior Pose I – Virabhadrasana I
Description: Starting in the Mountain Pose, bring your left foot back so that is 3.5-4 feet behind your right foot. Align your heels before turning your left foot 45 degrees, keeping your right foot facing forward. Rotate so that both hipbones are squared forward and parallel to the front of your mat. Inhale and raise your arms straight up towards the ceiling, keeping them shoulder-width apart, palms facing each other.
Draw your shoulder blades down towards your tailbone. Exhale and lean forward so that your right knee is directly over your right foot, and shin perpendicular to the floor. Gaze forward and hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Move back into Mountain pose and repeat with the opposite leg.
Benefits: Focuses mind, reduces anxiety, strengthens thighs, hips, back and ankles.
Common postural errors: Moving too far forward so your front knee is aligned with toes. Tips: Apply more pressure in your right heel to stay centred.