Even if you have never tried yoga before, you could probably make a good guess at what the physical benefits are, but what about the mental side of things? (If you want to recap, you can check out some of my top physical benefits of yoga here).
Let us continue our exploration of what else yoga has to offer, now turning our attention to the fantastic mental gains to be made – by learning exactly how yoga benefits the mind. Remember, that yoga means ‘union’ and refers to the intrinsic, interconnected nature of mind, body, and spirit, so developing one aspect typically means you influence another.
Five Mental Benefits of Yoga
LEVEL: Subtle, changing, introspective.
- Increase your mindfulness
We all need to be more mindful – meaning that we are becoming more aware of what is going on around us, including how we are feeling and what we are thinking at any given moment. Yoga has an amazing capacity to expand your awareness, to increase your ability to take in more information and process it all in a deeper way. Essentially, you are broadening your mental range, and when you tie this to the physical benefits of yoga, you really begin to take notice of your own body type, its limitations and areas of discomfort, but also you are able to observe your own thoughts as you sit in meditative postures, or flowing in between asanas. This enables you to enter a more real and intimate sense of presence within yourself.
2. Ease the fluctuations of the mind
This cannot happen without the breath – which will be a whole article in itself. But once you have cultivated the ability to synchronise movement and breath, you will begin to see a reflection of this stabilising practice in the context of your own steam of consciousness. By being afforded a way of studying your own consciousness, and by remaining detached and observant to what arises, you will notice how these mental fluctuations become less erratic and unpredictable, and more even and calm. In fact, it is this undisturbed and still nature of mind that is one of the primary descriptors of yoga on the whole, and is mentioned within the first few lines of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:
yogah citta vritti nirodhah
Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness
3. Bye bye, monkey mind!
The monkey mind is a metaphor for the constant flood of compulsive thoughts that so many of us are plagued with on a daily basis. They can become so intrusive that it is nearly impossible to find any sense of mental quiet, let alone peace and cosmic stillness. Practicing yoga can really put these monkeys at bay to the point where the volume of thoughts actually decreases, allowing vital time to rest and breathe as you notice the gaps in between thoughts becoming more frequent, longer, and more easily sustained. This ties in wonderfully with the next article on the emotional benefits of yoga, but in short, this reduction in intrusive thoughts can alleviate anxiety, depression, as well as other unwanted troubles of the mind.
4. Develop mental concentration
This benefit is so widely accepted that it has its own term – Samadhi – and is synonymous with the ‘end goal’ of meditation through yoga. Samadhi can be considered a form of intense mental concentration, much like a laser-beam focus in comparison to a straying searchlight. This ability to hone your mental awareness becomes an invaluable tool in breaking through the many levels of Maya, or illusion, prevalent in the mind, and ultimately, to attain union with the source of consciousness, cosmic divinity, or God.
5. Shine the light of awareness
This is one of my favourite perks of yoga, and perhaps the most subjective of all the benefits highlighted in this article. When you spend more time devoted to understanding who you are, you begin to draw your conscious attention to areas of your mind that were obscure, darkened, or intangible. As you peel back the socially-conditioned layers and discard the ego masks, you get right down into the depths of YOU. This has such rich and meaningful implications for unearthing the memories, thought patterns, and limiting beliefs that your mind has held in place for years or even decades. You can disarm your defence mechanisms, and analyse your own mind whilst you let go of all that no longer serves your highest happiness. In yogic philosophy, as outlined by Patanjali’s Eightfold Path, this comes under Svadhyaya, or Self-Study.
There are of course countless benefits to be had from practicing yoga, so why not see for yourself?