For more than 10 years, Dr. Corinna Keenmon of Houston Methodist's psychiatry and telepsychiatry department has understood the restorative power of yoga to promote mental and physical wellness. With patients facing mental health problems, she must remain oriented, lucid, sympathetic and make sound decisions under pressure — even when emotions flare up.
"Yoga has become well-known for providing a total package that combines physical activity, deep breathing techniques, meditation, and mindfulness to promote physical, mental, and spiritual health.According to Dr. Keenmon, it increases flexibility and heart and brain health. Additionally, it produces cognitive and emotional improvements with continued practice- which is invaluable."
Yoga is an ancient practice that has held its place in society for thousands of years, with numerous forms and types. Its essence is to be found in relaxation through conscious breathing and meditation, as well as poses that can build strength and extend flexibility. It is commonly acclaimed for its capacity to bring harmony to feelings and emotions, as well as increase muscle power and stamina.
Yoga's physical benefits to the brain and body
Through its low-impact movements, yoga has the remarkable ability to not only diminish stress hormones, but to also increase the production of beneficial brain chemicals like endorphins and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). By boosting these feel-good chemicals, it is possible to reduce anxiety, elevate mood, and bring about a sense of well-being.
According to Dr. Keenmon, yoga is known to slow the natural aging process when practiced regularly — there is much less brain shrinkage in the areas of the brain responsible for memory and cognition. As such, regular yoga practice can help protect our memory and cognition from the effects of time and aging.
A study was conducted by a team of researchers to investigate the differences between the brain imaging and chemical measurements of those who practice yoga for 45 minutes daily to those who opt for a sedentary form of relaxation such as reading or listening to music. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Keenmon's findings show that the levels of good brain chemicals were significantly higher in those who practiced yoga.
"Yoga can be a great asset for helping us to lower our fight-or-flight responses," she explains, "by activating our parasympathetic nervous system, which can have a positive effect on our mental health by reducing our levels of depression, anxiety and anger."
Even the inflexible can practice yoga
How about those of us who feel like they don't have the suppleness to contort their body into a pretzel shape on a yoga mat?
According to Dr. Keenmon, for those who are just beginning to meditate, the first step is to become completely focused on the sensation of breathing in and breathing out. By concentrating on just this one thing, a person can put aside any worries or judgments from other people, and be free of other sources of stress in their life.
With age, many physical activities become more challenging; yoga is a unique activity that is not just something people can do as they age, but a lifelong and non-competitive exercise that allows people to connect with a community of support. This could be online or in person, and it can also be used as a solitary practice to step away from the stress of everyday life and give attention to the self.
Dr. Keenmon has a great message for those who are worried about their flexibility. "One of the most remarkable and stunning components of yoga is recognizing yourself and your body for exactly what it is at this moment - a point that she underscores with great emphasis. "This is the mindful aspect of yoga — showing gratitude for what your body can do in any given moment."
How to start yoga and ways to continue
Experiencing extended periods of isolation and social distancing due to the emergence of COVID-19, in-person yoga became much harder to come by. Nonetheless, even in the virtual realm, yoga continues to foster a sense of synergy. Whether it's with old friends, newfound acquaintances, or a solo instructor, yoga has the capacity to bring people together.
Dr. Keenmon's preferred YouTube yoga channel, "Yoga With Adriene," is a renowned source of videos that can be enjoyed by everyone—from amateur yogis to seasoned practitioners and athletes. And if you're looking for something new, you're in luck—Adriene has recently released a variety of yoga sessions, such as Morning Yoga Flow, Yoga For Forgiveness, Stress Melt, and Head & Heart Reset, to name a few.
People who are looking to get their blood pumping with something more interactive will find the subscription app Obé Fitness (Obefitness.com) perfect for that. Featuring a wide array of yoga classes, Obé Fitness also has a social media component that allows members to experience the benefits of yoga in real-time with their friends and family by hosting an online yoga party.
The journey of starting a regular yoga practice is one of personal development, growth and improvement. It begins with self-acceptance, no matter what your current state of mind is — and then reaping the physical and mental benefits that flow from this. Even dedicating just 10 minutes a day to your yoga practice can help you improve your mood, reduce your anxiety and combat emotional reactivity — something all of us going through the latest round of the pandemic can really appreciate.
How does yoga heal emotions?
People attend yoga classes for a variety of reasons, but usually they're hoping to reduce their stress levels and reap some of the physical benefits yoga can offer. But they rarely prepare themselves for the intense emotional rollercoaster that often accompanies a yoga session, which can result in releases of tears, anger, joy, and more.
Yoga helps to break up what we refer to as “energy blocks” which can be caused by repressed emotions, traumas, and memories, even those which you may not be aware of. By doing this, it can help to release long-held emotions stored inside.
But why do people believe yoga releases emotions? Here are some possible explanations for this phenomenon:
• When you practice yoga, you can use it as an opportunity to really let go of the physical tension that your body has held onto due to any emotional pain..
• Through paying close attention to the physical aspects of yoga, you can become more aware of the subconscious emotions that you may not have even noticed before.
•Doing yoga can help you to build a deeper connection with yourself and also with other people, a connection which can lead to a release of emotion.
Are there particular elements that drive the release of emotions? In other words, how can we make sense of why we feel what we do?
Let’s take a more in-depth exploration of two potential causes that could be contributing to the release of energy and emotions while people practice yoga.
Knowing the Two Factors That Can Trigger an Emotional Release During a Yoga Session
#1 Your Muscles Need To Be Releasing Tension
Have you ever felt like, no matter what you do, everything is just going wrong and nothing is going according to plan...
• If you make sure to eat the right food choices, it will provide your body with the nutrients it needs to stay healthy
• Exercising regularly; and
• Taking all the recommended “healthy” practices seriously ill all contribute to keeping you in shape nd feeling good.
... and yet you're still feeling exhausted, both mentally and physically?
It is thought that the three elements of the self—the mind, body, and soul—are inseparable. This means that if we are to gain the desired release of emotion we are seeking, we must first address any tension in our body. Our bodies never forget, keeping track of any experiences from the past that are both physical and mental...
• Guilt; or
• Even happiness.
With body awareness, we can start to notice the physical manifestations of tension, which can help us quiet our thoughts. This in turn can create more space to be more emotionally aware.
#2: You Need to Allow Your Mind to Experience Emotional Release
During a yoga practice, the body can sometimes use the physical practice as an opportunity to release any energy from past traumas or memories that may have become trapped.
Even if you haven’t experienced severe trauma, yoga can still have a profound impact as it can cause an emotional release that you didn't even realize you needed:
• Focusing on yourself, doing something to relax, and studying your feelings and body can bring about a sense of serenity.
• There’s nothing that has the power to pull your attention away from the present, nothing like technology or the hustle and bustle of everyday life that can potentially take away from the moment – allowing your mind to simply be and find some much needed emotional release.
• A combination of soothing lighting, peaceful music and a calming atmosphere contribute to creating the ideal environment for many yoga sessions.
• These techniques can activate your body’s relaxation response, which allows you to access certain emotions (especially from your subconscious mind) more easily as they flow throughout your body..
Through yoga emotional release you are able to access the spiritual and physical connection to your organs, thus providing you with a sense of well-being and balance.
The renowned Five Elements Theory of classical Chinese medicinal practices asserts that any physical distress is often a reflection of emotional disturbances.
Examples of these relationships include:
• There is a strong link between anger and the liver
• The feeling of anxiousness can manifest itself in a person's stomach, as if their nerves and heart are all tangled up and their stomach is filled with dread
• The human heart is the symbol of joy, one of the most powerful emotions we experience
• Kidneys and fear have a strong connection
• The lungs are linked to feelings of sadness; and
• Worries can often be linked to the spleen
Emotional releases are a natural part of the practice of yoga, and can be associated with any of the feelings already mentioned.
If that happens, you need to focus on releasing the energy that is stuck in certain areas of your body by moving around.