Meditation, Mindfulness, and Yoga as a Part of Healing Mental Health Struggles
Meditation, mindfulness, and yoga are wonderful ways of practicing being in the moment, accepting one’s self, accepting and managing one’s emotional state, gaining insight, and moving towards better being. Hence, in conjunction with mental health treatment, they can be useful tools in healing mental health struggles.
While Eastern cultures have long known the benefits of practices such as meditation, mindfulness, and yoga in maintaining or improving mental health, western medicine, including psychology and psychiatry, have been slow to incorporate such practices. In recent years, more holistic practices have begun to be explored as a part of healing mental health struggles. Given the culture of western medicine, an important part of this exploration has been clinical research of these holistic practices. Over the last several years, clinical research has not only appeared, but has been gaining traction. Specifically, studies have measured the impact of meditation, mindfulness, and/or yoga on anxiety, depression, addiction, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), among other mental health struggles. Though rather common in early research attempts, the problem with much of the research of these practices is poor quality and small sample sizes. Unfortunately, these problems limit the ability to attain useful, strong, and generalizable results. Despite these problems, generally the results of the research have been promising, suggesting that meditation, mindfulness, and yoga are all associated with positive physiological changes and improvement in symptoms of the presenting mental health struggle and are useful tools when used in addition to traditional western treatments, such as psychotherapy.
When used properly, meditation, mindfulness, and yoga are wonderful ways of practicing being in the moment, accepting one’s self, accepting and managing one’s emotional state, gaining insight, and moving towards better being. Each has its own way of approaching this growth, though there is overlap amongst them.
While meditation and mindfulness can be practiced separately, they are often used in conjunction with each other. Meditation comes in many forms, though at its core is focusing one’s attention in a specific, purposeful way, whether that focus is on one’s thoughts, emotions, or sensations. Mindfulness is bringing one’s self into the present moment and approaching the present moment, as well as one’s self, without judgment. When combined, mindfulness mediation is focusing one’s attention on the present moment and noticing one’s thoughts and emotions, while actively working to not judge the moment, one’s thoughts, one’s emotions, or one’s self. Yoga is a combination of breath work (pranayama), meditation, mindfulness, and physical postures (asanas), hence it is often described as a moving meditation. Meditation, mindfulness, and yoga offer practitioners a chance to learn to connect to their body, mind, and emotional state, not only while engaging in the practice, but at all times. Additionally, they encourage practitioners to learn to be at peace with themselves where they are and as they are. They do so by emphasizing acknowledgment and acceptance of one’s self and the process of growth. This is an important component of healing from mental health struggles, as we first need to meet ourselves where we are at before we can begin to move toward a new way of being, toward better being.
It is important to stress that when it comes to healing from mental health struggles, holistic practices should not be used as a substitute for mental health care. To have the support, guidance, and expertise of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional is important to helping you heal in a safe and healthy way. That being said, both research and years of practice and clinical experience suggests meditation, mindfulness, and yoga are helpful tools in healing and growing as they can encourage positive physiological and psychological changes when safely and properly practiced.