Do you do yoga to build your physical flexibility or your mental strength? In this article, we explore how yoga can boost our mental as well as our physical strength.
Yoga is increasingly equated with physically able young women wrapping themselves into incredible shapes. Most people start yoga for stress reduction or physical wellbeing, and the physical benefits are well documented. Yoga is a powerful tool to build mental strength.
Did you know that yoga changes the brain? A study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience revealed that yoga appears to protect the brain from shrinking in old age. Yoga practitioners had more volume in grey matter than non-practitioners of the same age. So yoga literally protects the brain from shrinking as we age. What’s also significant is that this protection of grey matter volume is greater in the left hemisphere. The left side of the brain is associated with the relaxation response and the parasympathetic nervous system.
So, why is mental strength important? Mental strength helps to reduce stress and develop resilience. It is what underpins the mind-set that you apply to everything you do, and is what enables you to focus on what matters to you. Mental strength helps you to live according to your values and to live life more fully.
Here are three ways to build mental strength and how yoga can help.
Sleep is a crucial factor in building mental strength, yet this is often an area of life that we often struggle with. Matthew Walker, author of Why we Sleep writes: “ Sleep appears to restore our emotional brain circuits… sleep is not a luxury that we can optionally choose to take whenever we like. It is a biological necessity, and without it, there is only so far the band will stretch before it snaps, with both cognitive and emotional consequences.”
The past year has added unique challenges into what may already be a confused circadian rhythms. Good quality sleep relies on a variety of factors. A reduction in both caffeine and screen time can help but these are not the only changes that you can make. One key factor is in understanding the reason behind your sleeplessness, before making the changes that might support you. Lisa Sanfilippo, MFML yoga teacher and creator of the sleep recovery programme (which you can read about in Lisa’s book) suggests that a mid-afternoon pause for restorative yoga and meditation can be extremely supportive in getting to sleep later. Find out more about sleep recovery at Lisa’s live online workshop in April.
Yoga offers the perfect way to regulate stress. The focus on breath combined with gentle movement can offer support and yoga empowers those practicing with the tools they need to regulate stress.
Yoga is a practice that demands discipline; but discipline need not mean rigidity but rather the development of commitment to something. A punishing regime can be counter-productive in building mental strength. But committing to working at something with kindness and self-compassion can be so helpful. Yoga asana (the poses) can offer plenty of challenges and the opportunity to incrementally build your discipline, yet it takes mental strength to keep returning to challenge. Adam Hocke explores this concept in his slow flow for discipline class.