Yoga classes offer mental health benefits

Students work on building mental and physical strength by taking a yoga class at the McLane Student Life Center. Lariat File Photo.

By Phoebe Alwine | Reporter

Baylor offers yoga to students, staff and faculty. It can be practiced during lifetime fitness courses and classes in the McLane Student Life Center with the FitWell program’s certified yoga instructors.

There are many different types of yoga, each one focusing on a different aspect of the body. Some major forms include hatha yoga, which focuses on breathing and poses, restorative yoga, which uses blankets and bolsters to help one dive deeper into relaxation and vinyasa yoga, which combines breath-work with poses.

Kelsey Stevens, a FitWell yoga instructor at Baylor University, prefers to teach the style of vinyasa. She said the practice is both physically and mentally challenging.

Stevens said yoga is the practice of physical, mental and spiritual elements that originated around 5,000 years ago. The practice of yoga offers physical and mental health benefits for the body and soul.

Stevens has been practicing yoga for nine years. Beginning in high school, she said she used yoga as an enjoyable activity to do with friends. However, over time she realized the health benefits that coupled with the physical and mental growth she was getting out of it.

“At first it was just something to do with with my friends in high school… I kept trying and all of a sudden your mind and your body adapt and I fell in love with it,” Stevens said.

Stevens describes yoga as benefiting strength, endurance and flexibility. During yoga, every movement is combined with one breath, allowing the heart rate to increase and create a physically difficult workout.

Boston University Medical Center’s research concluded that individuals who practiced yoga at least two times a week saw significant decrease in their depressive symptoms. The 2017 study found that yoga increases self-awareness and present-movement, which can help individuals find their worries, stressors and depressive thoughts, and positively shed them through breathing, meditation and relaxation.

“For the next 60 moments with me, whatever is outside those doors is outside. Your phone is off, people can’t come in here. So for the next 60 moments focus on you,” Stevens said.

She begins each of her yoga classes telling her students these words. Stevens said that letting the power of yoga take over while in the class is the beginning of the mental healing process.

“Yoga teaches your body to instinctively start calming itself down… You’re training your lungs to not only hold space but hold a deeper breath, so I think people who have anxiety or struggle with something everyday can benefit from yoga,” Stevens said. “[Yoga] can psychologically settle everything down. It’s a very powerful tool, but you have to be open to it.”

Meditation is often used in most yoga classes. It is a practice that increases mindfulness and focus, providing a clear and calm mind.

“Meditation is a powerful tool. It’s hard at first but it can help the mind tremendously,” Kimberly Johnson, lifetime fitness yoga instructor and author of “Beginners Relax Exercise” said. “Putting meditation together with the poses and breathing ca n calm down the mind.”

Mindful meditation can decrease stress, anxiety and panic by canceling out the distracting thoughts by clearing the mind.

“When I had my brain aneurysm last year, yoga helped me to deal with the physical pain as well as the mental,” Johnson said. “It helped my muscles stay fit, but also the breathing helped with my pain too.”

These practices of mindful breathing, meditation and poses are beneficial to mental health. Stevens said that Baylor students can greatly benefit mentally from practicing yoga because it is all about getting back up.

“Fall out of a pose, get back to it. Same thing in the classroom. Fail a test, study more for the second one,” Stevens said.

Stevens said that because of yoga’s relaxing yet energizing qualities, students can increase their focus in class. Signing up for yoga classes that Baylor has to offer can help to increase a healthy mindset in and out of the classroom.