The National Alliance on Mental Health reports each year millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness. The month of May is designated as National Mental Health Awareness Month to increase awareness about this subject.
In addition to traditional mental health treatment options such as counseling, yoga is now considered a valuable tool in addressing mental health concerns. According to Psychology Today, there is a growing body of research to back up yoga’s mental health benefits. Yoga increases body awareness, relieves stress, reduces muscle tension, strain, and inflammation, sharpens attention and concentration, and calms and centers the nervous system.
Recently, Williamson Forward spoke with local yoga instructors at Downtown Yoga located in Williamson, West Virginia about the mental health and stress management benefits of yoga.
Restorative Yoga: A Reprieve from Stress
Downtown Yoga owner and instructor Heather Wolford explains, “A number of studies have shown that yoga may help reduce stress and anxiety. Yoga can enhance your mood and overall sense of well-being. Yoga might also help you manage your symptoms of depression and anxiety that are due to difficult situations.”
Heather notes several common stress relief techniques are incorporated in most yoga classes. These techniques include controlled breathing, meditation, physical movement and stretching, and mental imagery.
One class Heather instructs is Restorative Yoga, which is considered an antidote to the harm caused by stress, offering an opportunity to step back and reset the mind and body. A restorative practice offers a reprieve from stress that allows us to reframe our approach toward external stressors.
Heather adds, “Being able to release stress and reach a level of peace isn't going to happen overnight, but by regularly practicing you'll gradually see the difference.”
Reiki for Managing Stress
Downtown Yoga instructor Matthew Marcum is also a Reiki Master and Practitioner. Matthew says, “Reiki is a non-diagnostic therapeutic practice that uses the body’s own energy for deep relaxation, realization, and healing.”
He goes on to explain Reiki allows the client the space to experience a sense of self actualization concerning the causation of their stress allowing them to take steps to release or at least manage those issues. Aside from the body’s energy systems becoming more aligned, this seems to be where the long term benefits are discovered and utilized whether that be physical, mental, or emotional. Medical facilities such as Cleveland Clinic now offer Reiki services alongside traditional medicine practices.
Matthew also offers occasional meditation classes, such as sound meditation, at the studio. “There have been many forms of meditation used throughout the centuries as a viable way to relieve stress and reduce anxiety ranging from basic mindfulness practices to concentrated techniques that achieve specific objectives. Not all meditation techniques are right for everyone and so most people should explore different types at first and then develop their own practice centered around what they feel is most beneficial on a personal level, "he says.
Yin Yoga: Increasing Inner Awareness
Yin Yoga, offered by instructor Chris Dotson, is a passive style of yoga that involves holding poses for longer durations and increasing your inner awareness. This includes paying attention to your breath, thoughts, and body sensations. “Yin is a meditative practice. While on the physical side students are increasing mobility and flexibility, on the emotional and mental side, Yin is grounding, reflective, and encourages students to tune in to body and mind,” says Chris
Chris begins each session with a time of quiet meditation and breathing exercises, during the class the music is calming and relaxing so as to not distract the students from inward reflection, and each class ends with either progressive muscle relaxation, guided meditation, or a visualization practice.
“The majority of Yin class is practiced quietly, with only the calming background music, as we turn our focus inward,” she says.
Benefits of a regular Yin practice include reduced stress and anxiety, calmness, and a time to slow down, rather than feeling the need to constantly be busy.
Chris also offers monthly Yoga Nidra classes. The practice of Yoga Nidra is a powerful tool for relaxation and stress management. “Nidra is an especially relaxing and restful practice. It is effective in addressing and combating stress, anxiety, and fatigue.” she says.
This article from the Cleveland Clinic states, if you’re looking for deep relaxation, Yoga Nidra can help.
Take time to familiarize yourself with mental health warning signs and symptoms which you can find here. Consult with a health professional if you find these symptoms fit you or a loved one.
To find more information about classes at Downtown Yoga, find the studio on Facebook.