Yoga for Mental Health
Being in the present, aware of your surroundings and of your experience, is an essential process of learning to be psychologically flexible—a new and exciting measure of mental health. I like to talk about psychological flexibility and how to get it because it's positive, our culture spends a lot of time looking at pathology, discussing poor mental health but offers few practical and legitimate ways for improving it.
Yoga is just that. A practical and legitimate way of improving your mental health. However, not all forms of yoga are created equal. Yoga has become a catch-all phrase that describes the ancient, pre-medieval practice of preparing the body for long periods of meditation; it describes a spiritual movement that was transmitted orally as a tradition of what we could debate is an early form of psychology; it also describes fitness routines. I'd debate regardless of your spiritual orientation that yoga that is free of spirituality is merely Indian calisthenics. Yoga is of course free of religion although some religions use yoga in their practice of worship—yoga dictates you worship no God nor practice any religion.
So, how does yoga help? This hotly debated topic has taken a number of different twists and turns and the scientific literature is downright exciting. Early on during this journey, I published a peer-reviewed paper, did research and my Master of Social Work thesis on this topic. I would go on to develop and publish an eight-week protocol for using yoga in therapy for both groups and individuals. I called the program Mindful Yoga-based Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or MYACT for short (pronounced "my act"). MYACT is a combination of a gentle yoga class that is structured specifically to focus on training the practitioners to be psychologically flexible. This yoga practice is sandwiched with practical ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) exercises. In some contexts, rather than referring to ACT as a therapy, we instead call it Acceptance and Commitment Training because the psychosocial work done in the MYACT group isn't a traditional group therapy but instead training.
All this work didn't satiate my desire to explain the essential processes and functions that make yoga work in helping people to heal. I wrote an entire chapter in a health studies textbook, Holistic Healing on contemplative practices and was carefully scrutinized by peer-reviewers and the books editor, a scientist I admire very much.
And what is my conclusion? What have I found after traveling to India and working in Ayurvedic clinics where yoga is used as a prescription for health problems, doing yoga teacher trainings, publishing credible articles/chapters, and spending thousands of hours doing the work personally and facilitating it, sharing it with others? Those few simple opening lines of this post.. being in the present, aware of your surrounding and of your experience. It's so simple yet a deeply profound journey for any who dare chase it.
Yoga offers an opportunity to practitioners and I don't speak of contorting one's body into a pretzel-like shape but instead a new way to be present. A journey back to a place you haven't left. Told you that spirituality stuff seeps in.
For more on understanding the role of present moment awareness I'm including a link on mindfulness made simple.
In the spirit of practicing yoga and sharing it, I've created a 30 day yoga challenge and just as the best time to plant a tree is yesterday—if you're willing, take the plunge and commit yourself to doing 30 days of yoga with me. This link is a playlist of all 30 days.
If you have questions, don't hesitate to ask. Using yoga for mental health is a passion of mine.
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Find Your Zen
Tim is a social worker in Hamilton, Ontario; an award winning author, speaker, yoga teacher, and ACT trainer.