The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
We know that exercise and physical activity improves physical health, but what can we do to improve mental health? What if I told you adding 10-20 minutes of yoga or meditation each day could assist in the management of anxiety and depressive disorders?
Yoga has also been linked to:
- reduced diastolic blood pressure
- reduced stress
- enhanced mindfulness
- reduced job stress
- decreased anxiety
- lower cortisol levels
- improved sleep
- reduced intensity and frequency of headaches
- reduced perceived levels of anxiety
- improved mood
- increased GABA levels*
The most effective way to manage stress is to activate the relaxation response. When activated, the relaxation response decreases heart rate, slows breathing, stabilizes blood pressure and relaxes the tension in your muscles. When your muscles relax, you are able to use your entire body to dissipate stress instead of holding onto it.
But triggering the relaxation response in our body is more than sitting on the couch watching a mindless TV show or reading. It is a mental process that leaves your body relaxed, calm, and focused. In fact, a recent study found that 60 minutes of yoga increases GABA levels 27% more than 60 minutes of reading*.
Many forms of gentle yoga (Hatha or Yin are examples) combine poses and deep breathing that focuses on controlled breaths and will help release the active tension in your muscles.
Practicing either Mindful or Deep Breathing Meditation pulls the focus to your breathing or to a specific action, a series of words or an object. Deep Breathing Meditation can be done virtually anywhere.
There are many forms of yoga and meditation and no one form is best. You should choose a technique that works for your needs and lifestyle. It takes practice – so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the hang of it at first. To establish routine, schedule one or two times into your day for practice.
*GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid) is a natural occurring brain chemical or neurotransmitter whose main role is to have a calming effect on you and your nervous system. Basically it suppresses the “fight” response to stress. Low levels of GABA have been linked to the following:
- mood disorders
- excessive stress
- motion sickness
- panic disorders
- low growth hormone levels
GABA is also responsible for producing hyaluronic acid, which hydrates skin and lubricates cartilage, ligaments and tendons.