10 Spiritual & Mental Health Benefits of Yoga
Being a BIG believer in self care, I recently treated myself to an amazing yoga retreat in Hawaii. I am still basking in the glory of the experience, which is why I was so motivated to do a blog post on the spiritual and mental health benefits of yoga.
Oh, yoga…how I love thee. Let me count the ways you enhance so many internal lives:
1. Yoga improves our ability to focus and be in the moment.
When we aren’t present in the moment, we aren’t maximizing the joy in our lives or being as productive as we can be.
Guess what? Yoga has been scientifically proven to help us focus and be more present in our daily lives.
It’s important that we be fully present—when doing dishes, driving from one place to the next, gardening, meal planning, shopping and eating, etc.
At the center of yoga is an attention to mindfulness. By helping us focus on our bodies, posture, and breathing, yoga calms and trains our minds to tune out distracting thoughts.
As a result, it helps us remember more, react quicker, and even be a bit smarter (really!).
Being a health and fitness coach, I’m particularly aware of the importance of being fully present when planning, prepping and shopping for food. This seemingly simple act of mindfulness can completely change our relationship to food! Nourishing our physical bodies goes from being something we do somewhat unconsciously to a sacred act.
Mindfulness takes practice, practice, practice—and yoga is one of the best ways to get it!
Over time, you’ll start noticing things—like the smell of the dish soap, the beauty of your surroundings, the feelings of your loved ones, and every detail about the foods you choose to give to your body.
2. Yoga relieves stress.
Most of us have some level of stress in our lives. Stress drains our energy AND distracts us from focusing on what REALLY matters.
It’s worse when we don’t exercise, because our muscles stay tense, our breathing shallow, and our brain busy.
Stress is behind SO many health problems—from migraines to heart attacks. Learning to quiet our minds can literally add years to our life AND life to our years.
Stress relief is one of the most powerful mental health benefits of yoga! Studies have actually found that yoga reduces blood pressure—a sure sign that it calms us down,
Yoga shows us where we hold tension and gently helps us work it out. It also connects us with our inner strength so we can tackle the frustrations and challenges of our everyday life.
- Rhythmic whole body exercises simultaneously exercise and relax the body AND pump it full of fresh blood, oxygen, and other nutrients;
- Consciously focusing on breathing, which helps us relax; and
- Meditation to quiet our minds, still our bodies, and reconnect us to our inner resources.
Yoga slows down the mental loops of frustration, regret, anger, fear, and desire that stress us out.
3. Yoga reduces generalized anxiety.
Generalized anxiety occurs for no reason—even when you’re not under any particular stress, you still feel anxious.
You have racing thoughts and reactive feelings. You judge your experiences as “good” or “bad” and often feel like you’re not good enough, you’re powerless, or you don’t have enough.
It can literally become a habit.
The deep breathing and positive intention practiced in yoga helps gently and slowly remove these negative patterns by retraining our nervous system to be in a more calm and relaxed state.
With regular yoga practice, what we do ON the mat reshapes our attitudes, thoughts, and habits and carries over to our life OFF the mat.
Yoga doesn’t just lift our spirits—it lifts our entire lives! I found this (timeless) video I did several years ago about yoga and peace of mind:
4. Yoga opens us up for transformation.
Of course, yoga doesn't immediately change who we are overnight. But, if we commit to it, yoga can eventually help us stop resisting and become more aware,
The more aware we are, the easier it is to free ourselves from the clutches of destructive emotions, like anger, envy, etc., and destructive habitual behaviors, like emotional eating, toxic relationships, etc.
Being mindful and deliberate in our yoga practice helps us be mindful and deliberate throughout our life. As a result, we open up and our energy can be redirected to being our best self.
When we do yoga regularly, we become more conscious of how we feel after we visit with the people in our life and we begin to feel more encouraged to address any eating and weight problems on a deeper level than just diet and exercise.
We become less tolerant of feeling bad, which opens the door for making LOTS of positive changes—from small to massive—that support our mental and spiritual health.
In short, we begin to see the way to making better decisions more clearly. (I highly recommend journaling your thoughts and feelings because it helps us make connections quicker!)
5. Yoga can improve our relationships.
The greater awareness of ourselves that comes from regular yoga practice also helps us connect with our partner, kids, friends, family, neighbors and co-workers in a more authentic and deeper level because we are living in the present moment.
We’re able to thoroughly enjoy things—like eating together, long walks, taking bike rides, etc.—because we’re not thinking about our To Do list or other distractions. This is almost always noticed—and will hopefully be reciprocated!
Couples who both did yoga were found to have more compassion with each other, better problem solving abilities, self acceptance and acceptance of others, and better handling of stress—so this is a GREAT activity to do with your partner, if you have one.
Also, at the core of yoga’s philosophy is peacefulness, kindness, honesty and a philosophy of taking no more than what we need and an interconnectedness among all humanity.
We can use all this positive energy to strengthen our existing bonds with the people who are currently in our life to go out and cultivate new, more positive, relationships.
6. Yoga can increase our willingness and follow through to serve others.
A higher purpose and the betterment of our community is also at the heart of yoga’s philosophy.
Serving others brings deeper meaning to our lives and (hopefully) our problems don’t seem quite so overwhelming when we see what other people are dealing with.
Also, when we are taking good care of ourselves, we are more physically and mentally capable of caring for others.
I serve others in several ways—I’m involved in my church, I am a consistently available parent, partner, family member and friend, and I actively help others reach their goals and achieve their dreams through coaching.
When I'm actively doing yoga, my desire to serve totally gets turned up.
7. Yoga opens us up to guidance.
A huge part of reducing stress is learning to ask for help AND being okay receiving it.
When we aren’t working with anyone, we only have our own experience and frame of reference to guide us. And, that’s very limiting.
Good yoga teachers (and coaches!) can do wonders for our health. The best ones do more than just guide us through the physical part of the equation—they also deliver hard truths to us with compassion, they help us relax, encourage walking the path of personal development, and enhance and personalize our health and wellness practices.
Bonding with a teacher and/or coach goes a long way toward promoting our health because when we are open to guidance, we also open up to new ideas and new ways of thinking that can drastically change our life for the better.
9. Yoga helps us to be more patient.
When I went to my first yoga class years ago, I was totally intimidated by the ladies doing crazy poses…until I learned that yoga is NOT easy. Calming the mind without moving, planning your day, thinking about what you’re making for dinner, and some of those poses are hard work!
It quickly became clear to me that it was going to take time to clear my head, be present in the moment and build up the strength to do the harder poses—and, it wasn't fair to compare myself to my classmates who had been doing it for years.
In fact, it was a lot like when I trained for a marathon—yoga has a very specific progression. Hmmm...just like life. The key is patience and celebrating the small successes that come with progress!
The calming environment of yoga—and an effective teacher or coach—promotes patience on and off the mat.
10. Over time, all of the positive effects of yoga combine to boost our self esteem.
If you take a positive and intentional approach to your yoga practice, you’ll begin to see a different side of yourself. You’ll start to realize that YOU are worthwhile and intimately connected to something bigger.
We begin to own our strengths, see our potential AND accept our limitations. The meditative aspect of yoga helps us shift our thinking and stop viewing limitations as downfalls. Our thoughts become more positive as we lose our dread and fear and focus on what we CAN do.
The result is more gratitude, empathy, forgiveness, patience—and self esteem.
When I’m not feeling the best about myself, I tend to stop being consistent with self care. I definitely put that effort in more consistently when my self esteem is in a solid place.
3 Week Yoga Retreat
In a perfect world, I would do yoga every day—but, life (and me) are not perfect.
So, I tend to do do periodic yoga retreats so I can experience all of the spiritual and mental health benefits of yoga during a set period of time, then carry them into my life moving forward.
Recently, I did this in Hawaii—but, mostly, I do this through Beachbody on Demand.
Beachbody on Demand is convenient, cheap, brilliant and awesome! For me, it's second only to Shakeology and the 21 Day Fix.
In short, when you have BOD, you can work out ANYwhere and ANYtime—as long as you have a mobile device and internet access.
And, it includes the 3 Week Yoga Retreat!
Schedule Time for Yourself
Just like you have to be self directed and plan and prep your meals, you need to plan and prep for your self care and fitness. One of the reasons I adore yoga is because it's BOTH self care AND fitness!
In order to reap all of the spiritual and mental health benefits of yoga I mentioned above, you’ve got to set and commit to a schedule for your yoga time so it doesn’t get pushed aside.
You can do it daily or as periodic retreats, like me.
Some things to consider…
- What time of day do you have the most energy?
- When are you least likely to have the fewest distractions and interruptions? (Remember, yoga is about PEACE. If you’re a mom, believe me, I know this is hard—BUT, it’s not impossible. I often set my alarm clock for 45 minutes earlier than everyone else in the house so I have a block of time for ME to take care of ME.)
- Do you know anyone who can be your yoga buddy to help keep you accountable? Ideally, this is someone who is in close proximity to you who will commit to showing up. Accountability partners are just one more layer of accountability that will help you succeed on your health and fitness journey.
Consider Using a Personal Coach
If you're ready to accept guidance on YOUR journey to a "whole" life, let's connect!
As a coach, I help my customers experience the spiritual and mental health benefits of yoga and teach them how to use many other tools that guide them toward a mindful and healthy lifestyle.
Let's get you started today!