Yoga & Focus – Why Yoga is so good for Mental Health
Yoga’s spiritual tradition and mind-body approach provides a multifaceted tool for improving focus. We explore new asanas when we meet them, testing them, testing us. Practicing builds a relationship between us; learning each pose until we feel it in our fibers. A relationship is a living thing, applying focus honours ourselves as a part of it. The physical pose itself requires concentration as we move our bodies and maintain balance. Breathing, as taught in yoga, requires focus, and in itself is a wonderful practice. Our practice teaches us to use our breath to possess our bodies and our minds are needed to guide the process. Practice is repetition for the purpose of improvement. Yoga is simple to learn yet can still offer endless challenge to every yogi.
Mindfulness and meditation can be a struggle for people facing mental health issues. Sometimes our streams of thought feel more like tsunami, with layers and layers of consciousness. Making all of that noise silent seems a Herculean task. In order to thrive, learning to control our stream of consciousness is one of the most important things we can do. It is only when we hear our internal narrative, we understand how it manifests itself in our daily lives. Mindfulness and meditation practices teach us to let go of toxic inner dialogue. The physical practice of yoga offers a way to introduce mindful principles through focusing the mind on joining breath and body.
The following visualization exercise is an example of how we can connect our practice to mindfulness, even when we are not on our mat. We want to fill our mind with our practice, letting the stream of consciousness devote itself to the task at hand. The process becomes even more powerful when we understand it in relation to our practice.
Breathe deeply and imagine you are in plank. Feel the crown of your head pulling towards the front of the room, feel your chest expand as your shoulders and latissimus dorsi draw toward your spine, your elbows feel like they are being magnetically drawn towards your hip bones. Engage your abdominal muscles by keeping your spine straight yet having more magnets pulling the front of the rib cage and the pubic bone together. Toes are pushing into the ground evenly, engaging our quadriceps. Our heels reach towards the back of the room as if they are horses straining at the bit, engaging all the muscles along the backs of our legs. Can you feel how long and strong your body is?
Without leaving our chairs we can receive some of the benefit of the asana, it will also prepare us for meeting it on our mat. Did you feel your body respond to your thoughts? The more that we practice, easier it is to recover from the tsunami in our minds. We can teach ourselves to focus on many things our breath, our posture, listening to the blood run through our bodies, until the waves calm.
The universe is chaos, and in chaos there is all things. What we look for, we will find. If we look for pain and disappointment, we will find it. If we look for resilience and hope, we will find it. It is all there. Learning to focus our minds, allows us to choose what we are looking for. This place of choice can be the most powerful healing tool we have. Love and kindness for ourselves and each other, may not change the world, but it will change our experience in it.
Stephanie Osberg is a caregiver, an entrepreneur, and coach. She is most proud of being a part of an actively growing community striving for dignified, respectful mental health access for all. Stephanie’s dream is to connect people with their purpose. She is someone who has always had a feeling of being disconnected with the world, unwanted and out of place and time. She has found purpose working with people. It keeps her humble, connected, inspired, and sometimes makes her feel like a superhero.