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- Mental health issues are increasing across the world. There was a 25% rise in anxiety & depression in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic
- WHO says that mental health is a basic human right. It is more than an absence of mental disorder
- Yoga presents an effective solution to maintaining good mental health
- 100+ research papers & scholarly articles were reviewed to outline a daily yoga practice that can help maintain good mental health
- 5 yoga-based practices can be incorporated into the daily routine to improve mental health. These include alternate nostril breathing, humming bee breath, sun salutation, meditation, and gratitude.
Mental health crisis on the rise
The importance of sound mental health is now increasingly becoming a part of the popular narrative. Google search trends will reveal a steady rise in searches for Mental health over the last 5 years. There’s almost an 87% growth in searches around mental health on Google in 2022 (vs. 2016)1. The World federation for mental health made the theme of world mental health day as “Make mental health and well-being for all a global priority” 2.
The pandemic triggered a mental health crisis across the world aggravated by the lockdowns imposed in many countries. The WHO reported a 25% increase in anxiety and depression worldwide in the first year of the pandemic 3. WHO reports that depression is a global mental disorder with over 5% of adults suffering from it. In 2019 alone, 280 million people were suffering from depression, and 301 million people with anxiety 4. WHO further details that mental disorders cause 1 in 6 years lived with disability and people with severe mental health conditions die on average 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population 5. While the lack of mental health is a major cause of concern, it’s important to understand the essence of mental health. It’s not just about the lack of a mental disorder.
Mental health is more than an absence of mental disorder
The WHO clearly defines Mental health as an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in. According to the WHO mental health is a state of mental well-being that 6
- Enables people to cope with the stresses of life
- Realize their abilities
- Learn well
- Work well
- Contribute to their community.
WHO says that mental health is a basic human right.
Better Mental Health through Yoga
There are many contributing factors to maintaining strong mental health. Sever people across the world through ages have reported positive effects of Yoga on physical and mental well-being. Researchers have recommended that yoga has the potential of playing a protective or preventive role in maintaining mental health7 8 9.
There is a lot more to yoga than physical fitness. The ancient tradition of Yoga and the foundational text on Yoga (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali) defines the goal of yoga as stilling the changing states of the mind 10. Yoga provides an effective approach to not just help with mental health issues but an effective tool to have good mental health and better deal with normal stresses of life. Physical and mental health are the basic requirements to enjoy high-quality life. A scientific review of 22 studies published in mindfulness reported that yoga-based interventions decrease stress reactivity, influence physiological markers of stress reactivity including changes in blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol or cytokine levels, resulting in overall improved health and well-being, in diverse populations of adults 11. The study also reported that yoga-based interventions influence psychological processes involved in the regulation of mood and emotion, including self-compassion, dispositional mindfulness, rumination, meta-cognition, attention, and memory.
In this feature, I bring to you 5 simple daily yoga-based practices you can follow to have better mental health. I’ve outlined these after going through 100+ published research papers on yoga, mental health, and well-being. These are an amalgamation of science and research-backed practices that’ll help you better gain control of your mind.
1. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is a form of breathing practice where you close one nostril and inhale through the other nostril. Then you close both nostrils, retain the breath for a few seconds (typically 4 seconds), open the other nostril, and slowly exhale through it. You can check out how to do it in our section on alternate nostril breathing. It has been shown to have a positive impact on improving attention, lowering anxiety, improving cardio-vascular parameters, reducing stress & depression 13 14 15.
2. Sun Salutation
“I am standing at my own altar. The Poses are my prayers.”B.K.S.Iyengar
Sun salutation is a yoga sequence comprising of 12 different postures done in a specific sequence (read more about it in our special section on sun salutation). The WHO mentions that regular physical activity improves overall mental health and well-being16. While most forms of physical activity are good for the body and the mind, there are some studies that show that sun salutation has higher positive benefit on lowering stress & anxiety17. There’s research that shows that incorporating sun salutation has positive impact on self-control, mindfulness, mental health, and overall well-being. 18 19
Incorporating sun salutation as a part of the daily routine can not just have physical benefits, but can positively impact mental health.
3. Humming Bee breath
“Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”Thich Nhat Hanh
Humming bee breath also known as Brahmari Pranayama is a practice where you close your eyes and years with the help of your hands and make a humming bee sound (read more about it in our section on humming bee breathing). Pranayama (a form of yogic breathing) and its various types were always mentioned by the ancient texts as a way to maintain physical and mental health, there’s now growing scientific evidence of its positive impact on mental health and well-being. The word bhramari means ‘bee’ and the practice is so called because a sound is produced which imitates that of the bee. Research indicates that its practice reduces blood pressure, lowers anxiety, improves sleep quality, and reduces stress 20.
“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear”Rumi
A daily meditation routine can positively impact mental health and overall well-being. There’s a lot of scientific evidence that backs this. Within meditation, mantra based meditation (MBM) has been seen as an effective mechanism where it helps override all the mental chatter when you are trying to focus. It involves continuous repetition of a word, phrase, or set of syllables (either silently or aloud) with or without religious/spiritual content 21. Meditation also has positive impact on emotional intelligence and lowers perceived stress among individuals 22 23.
Daily meditation is time tested, validated practice, which when practiced daily can improve the response to stress and can have positive impact on sleep, increase emotional intelligence and overall well-being.
“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Gratitude is note directly related to a defined yoga practice. However it finds a significant place as a daily practice that when incorporated in to a daily pranayama, yoga, and meditation practice can have a positive impact on well-being. There’s a growing large body of research suggesting gratitude being related positively to all aspects of well-being 24. Research strongly supports that a cultivation of gratitude should result in a harvest of happiness 25. Feeling gratitude is associated with better well-being across the life span 26. Research suggests that when people feel grateful, thankful, and appreciative in their daily lives, they also feel loving, joyful, forgiving, and enthusiastic 27. Research investigating the impact of a grateful outlook on psychological and physical well-being has found a significant heightened well-being in people with a grateful outlook28. A daily yoga-based practice when accompanied with gratitude can potentially multiple the positive effects of meditation, pranayama, and yoga poses.
After evaluating research papers, and scholarly articles on yoga, mental health, and well-being a daily yoga-based practice has been proposed, which can have a positive impact on mental health. This has the mind and outlook at its base, which can be driven through daily meditation and practice of gratitude. In the center is the control of breath, which as a simple daily routine can be established through the practice of humming bee breath, and alternate nostril breathing, and keeping the body physically fit, which can be done through sun salutation. It is to be noted that in case there are existing medical conditions, you should consult your doctor before trying out any of these things.
Overall these 5 yoga-based daily practices can be done in 30 minutes. Based on the scientific evidence, a regular practice of meditation, gratitude, pranayama, and sun salutation can have an overall positive impact on your health and well-being.
- Khalsa, S.B.S., Hickey-Schultz, L., Cohen, D. et al. Evaluation of the Mental Health Benefits of Yoga in a Secondary School: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial. J Behav Health Serv Res 39, 80–90 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11414-011-9249-8
- Khalsa, Sat Bir Singh1,2,. Yoga for Psychiatry and Mental Health: An Ancient Practice with Modern Relevance. Indian Journal of Psychiatry: July 2013 – Volume 55 – Issue Suppl 3 – p S334-S336
- Varambally, S., & Gangadhar, B. N. (2016). Current status of yoga in mental health services. International Review of Psychiatry, 28(3), 233-235.
- Bryant, E. F. (2015). The yoga sutras of Patanjali: A new edition, translation, and commentary. North Point Press
- Pascoe, M. C., J de Manincor, M., Hallgren, M., Baldwin, P. A., Tseberja, J., & Parker, A. G. (2021). Psychobiological Mechanisms Underlying the Mental Health Benefits of Yoga-Based Interventions: a Narrative Review. Mindfulness, 12(12), 2877-2889.
- Image source – Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha” by Swami Satyanda Saraswati
- Shah, M. R., & Kothari, P. H. (2019). Effects of nadi-shodhana pranayama on depression, anxiety, stress and peak expiratory flow rate in post CABG patients: experimental study. International Journal of Health Sciences and Research, 9(10), 40-5.
- Telles, S., Gupta, R. K., Gandharva, K., Vishwakarma, B., Kala, N., & Balkrishna, A. (2019). Immediate effect of a yoga breathing practice on attention and anxiety in pre-teen children. Children, 6(7), 84.
- Naik, G. S., Gaur, G. S., & Pal, G. K. (2018). Effect of modified slow breathing exercise on perceived stress and basal cardiovascular parameters. International journal of yoga, 11(1), 53.
- Phansikar, M., & Mullen, S. P. (2022). Cognitive and psychosocial effects of an acute sun salutation intervention among adults with stress. Mental Health and Physical Activity, 22, 100431.
- Parajuli, N., Shindhe, M., & Pradhan, B. (2022). Effect of Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation) on mental health, self-control and mindfulness of adolescent school children. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 101691.
- Sachan, A. (2021). Surya Namaskar: Its Techniques and Health Benefits. Indian Journal of Natural Sciences, 12, 67.
- Kuppusamy, M., Kamaldeen, D., Pitani, R., Amaldas, J., & Shanmugam, P. (2018). Effects of Bhramari Pranayama on health–a systematic review. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine, 8(1), 11-16.
- Álvarez-Pérez, Y., Rivero-Santana, A., Perestelo-Pérez, L., Duarte-Díaz, A., Ramos-García, V., Toledo-Chávarri, A., … & Serrano-Aguilar, P. (2022). Effectiveness of Mantra-Based Meditation on Mental Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. International journal of environmental research and public health, 19(6), 3380.
- Chu, L. C. (2010). The benefits of meditation vis‐à‐vis emotional intelligence, perceived stress and negative mental health. Stress and Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 26(2), 169-180.
- Goldstein, E., Topitzes, J., Brown, R. L., & Barrett, B. (2020). Mediational pathways of meditation and exercise on mental health and perceived stress: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of health psychology, 25(12), 1816-1830.
- Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 890-905.
- Watkins, P. C., Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2004). Gratitude and subjective well-being.
- Jiang, D. (2022). Feeling gratitude is associated with better well-being across the life span: A daily diary study during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 77(4), e36-e45.
- Emmons, R. A. (2013). Gratitude works!: A 21-day program for creating emotional prosperity. John Wiley & Sons.
- Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(2), 377.