Full length portrait of senior woman in yoga pose Vrikshasana, Tree pose.

4 Yoga Practices to Support Mental Wellbeing

Leah Sugerman, E-RYT 500, YACEP
Updated: 
March 09, 2022

Yoga for wellness is a powerful tool to support your mental health and overall wellbeing. Yoga has time and time again, been proven to support both our physical and emotional health in many different ways.

This is because yoga offers a toolbox full of techniques to support your mental health and overarching wellness. “Yoga” encompasses a great many things, including pranayama (or breathwork), meditation, mindfulness, physical asana (or postures), philosophical ideas, and so much more—so there are countless techniques that you can borrow from the yogic catalog to support you in times of need.

4 Yoga for Wellness Practices to Support Your Mental Health

It should be noted that yoga is not a substitute for mental health professionals or treatments. It merely complements existing modalities that may support you during stressful times. Never stop or alter your healthcare plan without consulting with a healthcare professional.

1. Breath Counting

Diverse group of people practicing breathing techniques. Breath counting is a simple and actionable pranayama practice that is the perfect yoga for wellness technique. It immediately draws you into the present moment and focuses your awareness on something that is both tangible and serene. 

  1. Find a comfortable position. You may wish to sit on a chair or the floor or you may prefer to lie down.

  2. Either soften your gaze or close your eyes and draw your awareness inward.

  3. Start to listen to the sound of your own breath—without trying to change or control its rhythm. Just become aware of its natural pace.

  4. After listening to your natural breath for some time, slowly begin to deepen your inhalations and your exhalations. Draw air in through your nose for a slow count of four and then release air out through your nose for a slow count of four. 

  5. Continue to breathe in this way, consciously counting the time for each inhalation and each exhalation, equalizing their lengths. If it feels better for you to increase or decrease the count for each breath, feel free to change to a number that feels appropriate. You may prefer to inhale and exhale for a count of two or eight or any other number that feels comfortable for you.

  6. Count each breath for about two minutes, or until you feel yourself calming. Pause and return to your natural breath at any time that feels appropriate. 

2. Emphasize the Exhalation

Group of young sporty people practicing yoga lesson with instructor, sitting in Padmasana exercise, Lotus poseBy emphasizing your exhalation, you not only bring your awareness and attention to your breath—which is already inherently calming. You also stimulate your parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous system to create an even greater sense of overall calm.

  1. Find a comfortable position. You may wish to sit on a chair or the floor or you may prefer to lie down.

  2. Either soften your gaze or close your eyes and draw your awareness inward.

  3. Start to listen to the sound of your own breath—without trying to change or control its rhythm. Just become aware of its natural pace.

  4. After listening to your natural breath for some time, slowly begin to deepen your inhalations and your exhalations. Draw air in through your nose for a slow count of four and then release air out through your nose for a slow count of six or eight. Emphasize your exhalation by drawing it out to a longer pace than your inhalation.

  5. Continue to breathe in this way, consciously counting the time for each inhalation and each exhalation and lengthening your exhalations. If it feels better for you to increase or decrease the count for each breath, feel free to change to a number that feels appropriate. 

  6. Count each breath and elongate each exhalation for about two minutes, or until you feel yourself calming. Pause and return to your natural breath at any time that feels appropriate. 

3. Mindful Awareness

Photo of young black man lying in or Corpse Pose or Savasana, with his eyes closedMindfulness is a powerful yoga for wellness practice. The practice draws you into the present moment and keeps your attention on one thing at a time, which may help to calm stress and anxiety.

  1. Find a comfortable position. You may wish to stand, sit on a chair or the floor, or you may prefer to lie down.

  2. Slowly and carefully scan your surroundings. As you look throughout the space around you, identify five objects that are blue in color. Once you’ve found them, bring your attention to find five objects that are circular around you. 

  3. Next, bring your awareness to the sounds around you. You may wish to soften your gaze or close your eyes. Listen to whatever you hear and label each sound. For example, you may hear a car horn and a bird singing and the wind blowing. Take your time and identify all the sounds surrounding you.

  4. Then draw your attention to the smells in the air. Identify any scents around you. For example, you may smell the lingering scent of the breakfast you cooked or the faint scent of your shampoo in your hair. Fully absorb the scents around you and slowly identify them.

  5. Next, pay attention to any tastes in your mouth. Identify each sensation. For example, you may taste the sweetness of the cake you just ate or the bitterness of your last sip of coffee. Carefully pay attention to any tastes in your mouth.

  6. Then bring your awareness to the sensation of touch. Feel the brush of your clothes against your skin or the faint movement of wind against your cheek. Feel the ground beneath your feet or the seat of your chair supporting you. Pay attention to what you feel.

  7. Finally, draw your awareness inward completely and pay attention to internal sensation. Do you feel movement in your belly? Can you feel the air fill your lungs? Observe how your muscles feel. Observe how your mind feels. Pay attention to thoughts passing through your mind and observe their natural movements. Perhaps consciously decide to slow their rhythm by allowing them to pass without dwelling on any one in particular. Sit with your thoughts for a few moments, just becoming the mindful observer as they pass through your mind.

  8. When you feel ready, slowly bring your awareness back to your surroundings to prepare to move on with your day. Pause for a moment of mindful awareness like this whenever you feel you need a moment to metaphorically stop and smell the flowers.

4. Mindful Movement

Women practicing yoga therapy, stretching in Down Dog Pose using blocks and the wall.Movement is a powerful practice to ground you in your body and get you out of your head when your mind starts to spiral. Slow, soothing practices like gentle yoga can be the perfect practice to support your mental health and wellness when stress and anxiety get the best of you.

  1. Move your body in any way that feels appropriate while mindfully paying attention to your breath. You may wish to link breath with movement to create an even deeper awareness and connection between the two.

  2. Perhaps you’d like to slowly flow through Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara) or perhaps you’d prefer to statically hold Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Whatever way you like to move your body is the best antidote for a busy, stressed-out mind. 

  3. Move mindfully for one minute or one hour. Whatever feels manageable and helpful for you will be the best way to use this practice to support your overall wellness.

Yoga for Wellness Is a Powerful Tool

Yoga can be used for so many different things. But there are few things that yoga does better than support your overall health and wellness—and that includes your mental health. 

Practice these yoga for wellness techniques along with your other favorite wellness practices to find calm, support, and greater health overall.

 

Chrys Kub, yoga teacher, YogaUOnline presenter, movement special, myofascial release

 

Leah SugermanLeah Sugerman is a yoga teacher, writer, and passionate world traveler. An eternally grateful student, she has trained in countless schools and traditions of the practice. She teaches a fusion of the styles she has studied, emphasizing breath, alignment, and anatomical integrity. Leah teaches workshops, retreats, and trainings, both internationally and online. For more information, visit www.leahsugerman.com.