Healing Through Movement

The mental health benefits of yoga

by Laina Wirgau, LMSW, CAADC

Wayne State Caps LogoYou may be asking yourself if yoga is just another trendy workout fad that will eventually lose all of its momentum. Yoga, Mindfulness, and Self-care are the latest buzz words and any skepticism you may have is understandable. Trying something new is scary! Especially if you don’t have all of the information about what yoga is. Yoga has been around for thousands of years and it is continuing to make its way into our local communities here in Detroit, as well as across the Nation. All over the country and the world, people are giving it a try and perhaps it is something you might be interested in. Here are some of the reasons why yoga might be a good fit for you.

  • Simply put, yoga is the union of the mind and body.
  • We tend to view the mind and body as separate things, and the practice of yoga restores balance and wholeness.
  • Several studies suggest that yoga may help strengthen social attachments, reduce stress and relieve anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
  • Yoga teaches us to sit in the present moment, also known as mindfulness. Mindfulness practices improve concentration, emotional stability, mental clarity, and reduce stress.
  • Although yoga is an individual practice and every shape and body looks different while moving through postures; yoga is a community. A community of various backgrounds, sizes, genders, ages, coming together to share an experience and that is powerful.
  • The practice of yoga challenges our relationship with our bodies by learning to hold space for movement, feelings, and sensations. We are able to cultivate a practice of making space for discomfort, letting go of feelings that are no longer serving purpose, and move towards acceptance and self-compassion.
  • Yoga can help us heal from trauma. Our bodies hold and store trauma. We live in a mostly cognitive world meaning that we are more likely to vocalize our pain, grief, and sufferings verbally but research indicates that sometimes verbal processing isn’t always enough. Yoga provides a safe space to explore the reconnection with and to our bodies after trauma.
  • Yoga teaches us both acceptance and change by increasing our ability to cope with physically challenging postures and emotionally challenging headspaces.   We learn to approach circumstances from a nonjudgmental stance. This openness grounds us and fosters gratitude, self-compassion, and awareness.

Yoga just is:

  • When you begin your yoga practice it is very common to experience fears, insecurities, and judgement. If this is a worry of yours, you are not alone. Many individuals express initial hesitations to yoga but through practice and having an open mind have discovered the healing benefits.
  • Yoga encourages you to come into the present moment through the joining together of breath and movement leaving little energy left to judge. If and when you notice a judgmental thought, gently redirect back to your breath, your mat, and your movements.
  • It is during that time that we are capable of observing and releasing challenging feelings of the past and the future.
  • If we are able to quiet the distractions of everyday life, we can begin observing ourselves, our feelings, and our behaviors neutrally, moving towards acceptance and balance.
  • This practice often translates off your yoga mat into your day to day tasks, interactions, and wellness.

Putting yoga into practice:

  • Begin your day by noticing and bringing awareness to your body — building a mind body connection. One might refer to this as a daily “check-in”.
  • Pay attention to your breathe as you inhale and exhale throughout your day. Begin to explore subtle movements with your breath. Perhaps begin standing and slowly inhale your arms to the sky and exhale by stretching forward towards your toes.
  • Practice being present by bringing your awareness to the here and now through a mindfulness exercise. These exercises are available online and are relatively simple tasks that you can implement throughout your day.
  • Take time each day to set an empowering, positive, and peaceful intention, perhaps a single word: Patience, Gratitude, or Letting Go.
  • Add light stretching to your morning or evening routine to slowly introduce breath and movement connection to your daily practice.
  • Youtube videos have increased access to the many styles of yoga and is an excellent resource to consider when beginning to implement new yoga practices.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers free, confidential counseling services to currently registered WSU students. Among the options offered to support your academic and personal goals are individual and couples counseling, group therapy, psychoeducational workshops, and case management to community providers. CAPS is one of many offices on campus that provides support services to help students address the stressors of college life, such as Academic Success Center, Student Disability Services, and Career Services. See the CAPS website at www.caps.wayne.edu and look for CAPS postings on Academica to learn about programs to help you meet your personal goals.