Roughly 1 in 5 children, adolescents and adults in the US suffers from some form of mental illness. The range and severity of disorders varies, but it is clearly a prevalent issue that affects individuals, families and communities.
If you are a regular yogi, it will come as no surprise that studies are starting to confirm what has long been suspected: that yoga can act as an incredibly effective tool for managing, and even preventing, mental illness. By cultivating a strong mind-body connection, yoga has been shown to reduce stress, strain and inflammation, improve mindfulness and generally calm the nervous system. These benefits translate into yoga being an effective tool in managing depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD and schizophrenia.
Yoga is an intentional blend of physical practice (asana), breath work (pranayama) and meditation. It creates a uniquely safe space to observe our thoughts, examine our emotional responses, and ultimately overcome certain stressors. If we want to get science-y, (and we do), slow poses and breathing exercises encourage a parasympathetic nervous response (rest and digest), as opposed to sympathetic (fight or flight). There are even observable chemical changes in the brain- shout out to our chemical friend, GABA. GABA helps to regulate nerve activity and can be boosted up to 27% during yoga, which is especially useful for anxiety sufferers where GABA activity is low.
Beyond the science, yoga’s effect on the emotional self is undeniable. Sufferers of mental illness often struggle with focusing the mind, which can lead to feelings of anger, frustration and guilt (on top of the more obvious psychological symptoms). The practice of tuning out the external world while reconnecting with the internal is a skill that supports mindfulness, self-confidence and can improve concentration. It has even been reported that a yoga practice in kids can help social development- a tangible outcome from a reduction in harmful emotion.
Here at Pago we have a vision to get more people of all ages, but especially children and teens, on the yoga mat. By encouraging access to yoga through our grassroots partnership programs, we hope to see long term and holistic effects on mental health issues across the board. It is our vision that no child faces mental illness alone, so it is crucial to equip kids with the psychological tools and the strong community needed to see real, lifelong results.
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