“When we take better care of ourselves in mind, body and spirit, we generally feel better,” says Boca Raton, Florida,-native Leslie Glickman. “And being happier and healthier is a perfect recipe for success.”
So, what is the secret ingredient? What do we need for a dash of happy and healthy? What can make success taste extra sweet?
Yoga, which has physical and mental benefits. Glickman, owner of Yoga Journey in Boca Raton, says a consistent yoga practice yields countless self-improvement benefits—including a happier and healthier mind, body and spirit.
Mental benefits of yoga
Here are six ways yoga can make you a better you:
1. It helps you focus.
Gwen Lawrence, a yoga coach and instructor who has worked with athletes, sports teams and actors, says that more than any other type of exercise, yoga helps improve focus. She attributes this to the “comprehensive breathing techniques,” which help people control their trains of thought and concentrate on a task.
“When our minds are cluttered, we don’t think clearly,” Glickman says.
She recommends taking a few minutes to pause and get quiet, breathe in and out slowly and evenly a few times to relax, notice what is going on inside your body and feel how those few moments created a shift.
2. Yoga lowers stress, benefitting your mental health.
Lawrence says that practicing yoga three times a week can markedly lower stress levels. But consistency is key.
“I find the effect cumulative,” she says. “I am not saying it is a cure-all, but constant practice helps. That is why we call doing yoga a ‘practice’: You need to do it repeatedly to get great results.”
Even if you haven’t mastered your breathing and poses, just the practice of yoga itself can benefit your mental health.
“The simple act of moving and breathing can release so much tension,” Glickman says. “Yoga offers the tools to release stored tension in the body, allowing stress levels to go down and energy to go up.”
3. It helps you problem-solve.
“When it comes to tackling problems and challenges, yoga is incredible,” Glickman says. She points to the fact that every time an individual gets on the yoga mat and begins the practice, “you are forced to deal with everything that comes at you and are asked to face it with grace.”
For example: Can you focus without becoming distracted? Can you deal with difficult poses? Do you have the patience to keep showing up as you learn?
“It will challenge you at every turn, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually,” she says. “If you keep coming back, your skills on the mat will overflow into your life.”
4. Yoga boosts your creativity.
Yoga may help teach individuals to be mindful, to be present in the now and not think about the past or the future—which can stifle creativity.
“Breathing and maintaining an open body will enable you to be present and open to new and creative ideas, leaving mental blocks in the dust,” Lawrence says.
Glickman agrees, adding that the reduction of stress that accompanies yoga, which benefits your mental health, also paves the way for free-flowing creativity.
“Yoga has opened up so many possibilities for me,” she says. “Having less stress and tension, a clear mind and feeling healthy allows me to have a positive attitude toward everything. The poses create an opportunity to do things with your body that you never thought you could do, which helps you to believe that anything is possible. The proof happens every day on the mat.”
5. It helps you visualize your goals.
Studies have shown that visualization is important to achieving goals, Lawrence says, and many of the professional athletes she works with are a testament to that.
“I hear feedback all the time about how powerful the practices are and how they visualized crazy outrageous things and have achieved them,” she says.
6. Yoga benefits mental health by helping you adapt to change.
We never know what life’s going to throw our way. Yoga practice makes us better equipped to handle sudden, unexpected changes, which can benefit your mental health.
“One of [yoga’s] greatest gifts is that we become much better at managing the fluctuations of the mind,” Glickman says. “Yoga makes us ‘response-able,’ increasing our ability to respond to all that comes our way. This is the secret to living more mindfully. It is the clarity and presence that makes our lives change.”
This article was published in October 2015 and has been updated. Photo by JLco Julia Amaral/Shutterstock
Chelsea Greenwood has been contributing to print and online publications as an editor and writer for more than 10 years. A University of Florida graduate, she is the editor of a lifestyle magazine in South Florida.