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What Type of Yoga Best Supports My Mental Health?

By: Ashlee Stumpf, LPC

Nearly two years ago, I enrolled in a yoga teaching program for educators and counselors. I wasn’t particularly fit, coordinated, or practiced yoga on a regular basis. I was just a counselor who read enough to know yoga has a high correlation with good mental health, more than most other exercises, and I thought I owed to myself and future clients to find out why.

What Type of Yoga Will Best Serve My Mental Health Needs?

One of my biggest revelations was how much more there is to yoga than the poses. In truth, there are eight limbs (or parts) of yoga which address a spiritual, ethical, moral, and physical way of life. Asanas, or the postures practiced in yoga are simply one limb of the eight. And of that one part, there are numerous subgroups. Each offering their own style, purpose, and insight. 

As a counselor, I often suggest practicing yoga to clients, but knowing the wide range of yoga practices out there, I will generally suggest one of the following types of yoga to them.  

Hatha Yoga

When you hear the word “yoga,” this is most likely the type of practice that comes to mind. It’s the most common in the Western world. In this style of yoga, you move your body slowly into different poses which involves strength, flexibility, and endurance. I would recommend hatha yoga to someone who wanted to get a good workout, develop a new coping skill, and/or practice mindfulness. Controlled breathing and posture are important aspects of hatha yoga, and both are helpful in developing mindfulness. In addition, this type of yoga is nice for someone new to the practice and could use the slow pace to learn the poses; and at the same time has an enough of variations in poses and sequencing to keep a well-seasoned yogi engaged. 

Vinyasa Yoga 

For a more experienced yogi or someone looking for a fast-paced workout, I would recommend a vinyasa yoga. With this type of yoga, you move from one pose directly into the next. There is a rhythm to a vinyasa yoga class that can be challenging and freeing. Didn’t get that last pose right? Doesn’t matter you are already on to the next! This can be nice for someone who wants to get out of their own head or manage their depression or anxiety. It’s physically demanding but you will leave you feeling relaxed.  

Trauma-Informed Yoga (TIY)

Trauma-informed yoga is less of its own style of yoga and more about who is teaching the class. TIY offers a specially trained instructor who is aware of the science of trauma, the healing benefits yoga, and how to blend the two to create a class that feels safe and welcoming to its participants. Some of these nuances may seem simple, like having students take a jigsaw puzzle piece and place it up or down to signify if they are comfortable with the instructor using physical touch or suggesting to those who don’t feel safe closing their eyes to the keeping their eyes on a certain spot on the floor while mediating, but I assure you it can mean a lot. 

What often happens when a traumatic event occurs, our fight or flight instinct goes off, but for whatever reason our body didn’t/ couldn’t move. This lack of reaction can leave the individual feeling disconnected with their body. Studies show yoga can help people process their trauma in ways that not even talk therapy can do fully. Sometimes when the trauma lives in the body, it needs to be address in the body. This style of yoga can be beneficial to anyone dealing with physical, emotional, or sexual trauma, along with other conditions, like depression and anxiety.

Restorative Yoga

My personal favorite type of yoga. The goal of restorative yoga is to get your body in the most comfortable positions so you can focus on being in a mediative state. What a wonderful challenge! Which is made easier by the use of props such as yoga blocks, blankets, bolsters, and pillows. This style of yoga holds poses for several minutes at a time, allowing the person to focus on their breath and the feeling of their body at ease. This type I would suggest as a nice way to practice mindfulness, improve sleep, or decrease anxiety. 

The word “yoga” means to yoke. It’s a practice meant to unify the body and mind together. And while poses are not the only way for one to engaging in yoga, they do have the ability to help people maintain good mental health. The benefits are numerous and can be adaptive to serve any body, no matter the age, size, or level of athleticism. It is a great addition to anyone’s mental health toolbox. 

Resources

https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/hatha-vs-vinyasa#vinyasa-yoga-benefits

https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/philosophy/8-limbs-of-yoga/eight-limbs-of-yoga/

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