Movement, Mindset and Mindfulness
Ideas and tips
A confession: I should really be at a yoga class right now. But I’m so passionate about how yoga can help mental health, I need to write this blog for World Mental Health Day.
You’ve probably seen loads of articles discussing the millions of work days that are lost to mental health issues each year and the billions of pounds this costs the economy. This is big.
Now, if, when you think of yoga, you are making images of someone mega-flexible bending into all sorts of contortions on the beach (which are the images so often presented in the media), you might be wondering how yoga is related to workplace mental health.
This is a good thing to wonder about.
Whilst yoga can help you be more flexible (if that’s what you want), it also makes a huge difference to mental health.
Indeed, Office Om was inspired by my yoga teacher training combined with my experience as a counsellor. I was fascinated by the mental health aspects linking the two.
But how does it help?
If you’re interested in improving mental health, or just want more reasons to practice yoga, then read on.
Here are 10 ways that yoga can improve mental health at work:-
1. Increasing Resilience
Resilience is such a buzz word in wellbeing right now. How can we be more resilient to the stresses that life throws our way? Well, according to research, yoga can help us be more resilient. A group in a randomised control trial who attended just six weeks of yoga classes showed enhanced emotional well-being and resilience to stress in the workplace compared to a control group . Yoga improves resilience to stress, which improves mental health.
2. Decreasing Stress
Indeed, yoga is a great antidote to the stresses of work. Stress is well known to activate our sympathetic nervous system releasing the stress hormone cortisol into our bodies. Conversely, yoga activates the parasympathetic or ‘rest and digest’ nervous system. Although yoga won’t get rid of every stress in life, it does help our bodies and minds have a rest from cortisol production. This calms anxiety and reduces stress, which benefits our mental health. Yoga can teach people skills, such as breathing exercises, which can reduce their stress levels when needed whilst they are working. Yoga reduces stress levels, which improves mental health.
3. Increasing Cardio-health
Yoga can help your mental health by helping your heart be healthy. Studies have shown yoga to help cardio-vascular health by reducing blood pressure, body mass and cholesterol levels. Heart conditions have a huge impact on mental health. In a study by the British Heart Foundation, 68% of respondents said their heart conditions affected them mentally, emotionally or psychologically So by practicing yoga, we can improve the health of our heart, which can help us to be mentally healthy. Happy heart, happy mind.
4. Improving Muscular-skeletal disorders
Did you know that Muscular-skeletal disorders (MSDs) are one of the biggest causes of workplace absence? The HSE estimates just over a third of days lost are due to MSDs. However, practicing yoga has been shown to have positive benefits with MSDs. For example, on a study of dentists, the prevalence of MSDs was shown to be around half of those practicing other forms of exercise . Anyone who has experienced a back issue will tell you the effect it can have on mental health, as evidenced by research. So improving your back health can help protect your mental health too. Healthy backs, healthy minds.
5. Increasing Confidence
Yoga can help improve your posture. Have you noticed that when you stand taller and bring your shoulders back and down you feel more confident? Amy Cuddy's famous and much debated TED talk  discussed the difference changing our posture makes to our emotional state. And this is what yoga is all about:- bringing awareness to our bodies and making changes to the way we move and hold ourselves, which changes the way we feel. By educating us about the physicality of our bodies, yoga can improve our confidence which improves our mental health.
6. Increasing Mindfulness
As a wise teacher once said to me, if you’re not being mindful when you practice, you’re not practicing yoga. Mindfulness is increasingly growing in popularity in the workplace. Working by focusing our minds on the present moment, it has been shown to have positive benefits for anxiety, stress and depression amongst other things. Whilst for some people, a traditional mindfulness programme such as MBSR works well, for others, the thought of sitting for ages just doesn’t work and a more physical mindful yoga class can help form a mindfulness practice. Practicing yoga can increase your ability to be mindful at work. Practice mindful yoga, improve mental health.
7. Increasing Self-awareness
Yoga is all about self awareness. I’ve been training as a Mental Health First Aid Instructor recently and one of the key messages of the course is that early intervention can make a huge difference to mental health issues should they occur. Yoga can give you a space to notice how you are feeling. You can notice the difference in how you feel from practice to practice. This self-awareness can help you give yourself the first aid you need should you notice any changes that don’t feel so good. Perhaps someone might notice feelings of sadness one week and these could be spoken about before they grow to anything more. By learning about ourselves in this way, we can put things in place to help our mental health when needed.
8. Increasing our self-care
All work and no play makes Jack…. Well, I guess that depends on what Jack does for a living. But generally, for good mental health, we need space for ourselves outside of our work. Increasing our self-care is also linked to increasing our resilience to stress. Yoga can help give us the space we need and also increase our resilience.
9. Coping tools
Yoga gives us ideas and practices that can help us manage how we feel. To reduce the how stressful a situation is, we can't always change the situation, but we increase our perception of our ability to cope. Yoga classes can put our bodies in stressful positions whilst we focus on our breathing and being in the present. By learning to cope with stress in this way, yoga can give us confidence to deal with stressful situations. Ability to cope with stressful situations is an important part of being mentally healthy.
10. It just makes you feel good
There’s nothing I love more than someone coming to speak to me at the end of an Office Om workshop and saying how they’d never tried yoga before and how much better it has made them feel. We don't need a beach or to be really flexible, just having a stretch and taking some deep mindful breaths can simply feel great. Yoga can just make you feel really good, and what can be better for mental health than that?
My mission is to help millions of people experience the mental and physical benefits of yoga through Office Om.
How has yoga helped improve your mental health? Would love to hear your experiences in the comments below.
And drop Office Om a line to find out how we can help you improve mental health where you work: email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hartfiel N, Havenhand J, Khalsa SB, Clarke G, Krayer A (2011) The effectiveness of yoga for the improvement of well-being and resilience to stress in the workplace. Scand J Work Environ Health. Jan;37(1):70-6. Epub 2010 Apr 6.
Founder of Office Om, BACP registered counsellor, Yoga Alliance 200hr trained yoga teacher, Mental Health First Aid instructor and promoter of making daily life just that little bit better.