During our waking hours, our emotions can be quite the rollercoaster. We shift from one feeling to another without even realizing it. These ups and downs are what we call mood swings. Whether it’s going from being angry to feeling lonely, or suddenly experiencing joy, or maybe feeling frustrated and then completely lost and lonely, the list goes on.
There are many ways to help relieve or combat negative emotions and manage mood swings – one of which is yoga. In this article, learn about the yoga practices you can try to manage mood swings.
Why do Emotions Tend to Get Unstable?
While there are scientific explanations for mood swings, like hormonal imbalances and abnormal neurotransmitter levels, the main culprit behind these mood swings is our struggle to handle stress in our daily lives. A stressed mind tends to take us on a wild emotional ride, which not only impairs our efficiency but also clouds our judgment. On the other hand, a calm and composed mind experiences the opposite, with increased focus, boosted confidence, and better problem-solving abilities. It remains free from emotional turbulence.
It’s important to note that many of us seek external sources to cope with life’s stresses, whether it’s turning to alcohol to manage anger, online shopping to combat loneliness, or retreating under the covers to deal with grief. If you find yourself doing this, your emotions might be trying to tell you something. Instead of pushing your feelings aside, it’s better to explore healthier ways to soothe yourself when emotions become overwhelming. That’s where the ancient and still-thriving practice of yoga can lend a helping hand.
What is Yoga?
Yoga can be defined as the art of uniting the mind, body, and spirit to promote overall health. It stands apart from other activities that enhance emotional well-being, such as chatting with a supportive friend, going for a run, or seeing a psychotherapist. Yoga equips you with the ability to regulate your nervous system. It’s a holistic approach to balance through movement, breathwork, contemplation, and connection.
Derived from the Sanskrit word for “union,” yoga is often associated with physical exercises and stretching in the West. However, its original purpose was to unite our physical and mental selves with divine consciousness. Yoga postures, or asanas, were designed to prepare our bodies for meditation, offering a path toward enlightenment. Along this journey, yoga offers numerous physical, mental, and emotional benefits. Here, we’ll focus on how yoga can help us cultivate emotional balance and distance ourselves from the problems we perceive.
Yoga can be physically demanding, and it encourages a meditative flow by syncing breath with movement, leaving no room for worries and stress. Our minds are perpetually busy, but yoga provides a chance to “shut off” and concentrate, helping us find a path to emotional freedom. It’s a welcome escape from our often exhausting mental gymnastics and judgments.
This whole-body approach sets yoga apart from traditional physical therapy, psychotherapy, or other treatments. Yoga offers a grounding experience that can be applied even outside of your practice sessions, helping you maintain emotional stability. It’s not just something you do; it’s something you embody—a lifestyle of emotional wellness cultivation.
The practice of yoga has its roots in India and is outlined in the oldest records of Indian culture, the Vedas. It was systematized in the Yoga-sutras, a text attributed to the Indian sage Patanjali. While many people today primarily view yoga as a physical practice, it encompasses eight “limbs,” of which postures are just one:
- Yama (philosophical principles, translating to “restraint”).
- Niyama (philosophical principles, translating to “discipline”).
- Asana (postures).
- Pranayama (breathing).
- Pratyahara (withdrawing the senses).
- Dharana (holding focus and attention).
- Dhyana (connection).
- Samadhi (consciousness).
Recognizing the multifaceted nature of yoga is not only a sign of respect for its Indian origins but also because practicing it in its entirety offers the most benefits. Yoga is a practice that doesn’t demand perfection in poses but rather cultivates resilience. While it can’t eliminate the stressors in your life, it equips you with coping skills to respond to them differently.
Yoga for Emotional Well-Being
Yoga can be a valuable tool in enhancing your emotional well-being. One key shift in perspective that yoga can help you achieve is moving from “being an emotion” – where you see an emotion as your entire experience – to “having an emotion” – recognizing that an emotion is just a temporary part of your experience. This shift can be a powerful way to offer compassion to yourself and quiet negative thoughts. Even big emotions can become more manageable with regular yoga practice. If you’re a busy mom, adding a few minutes of yoga to your daily routine may help you juggle your hectic schedule more efficiently.
Whether you’re seeking better ways to handle daily stress or dealing with conditions like depression or chronic anxiety, yoga can be a beneficial addition to your routine. Research has shown promising results for the benefits of yoga in managing mental health disorders. For example, studies have indicated that people participating in yoga interventions experienced greater reductions in depressive symptoms compared to those who didn’t participate. Yoga therapy has also shown promise in alleviating symptoms of both depression and anxiety.
Yoga postures increase blood flow to the brain and promote the production of mood-enhancing hormones. What sets yoga apart is its lack of adverse side effects, making it a safer alternative to medications for depression. It incorporates techniques like deep breathing, which can reduce stress, a leading cause of depression. It may stimulate the production of dopamine, a hormone associated with happiness and pleasure.
So, how does yoga work to alleviate depressive symptoms? Here are its benefits:
- Yoga’s blend of physical postures, movement, breathing exercises, relaxation, mindfulness, and meditation has been found to reduce depressive symptoms and anxiety in individuals with major depressive disorder.
- Improved sleep quality is another benefit, as yoga can manage sleep disturbances, offering relief from depression symptoms.
- Participating in yoga classes and group sessions can help individuals with depression build social connections, countering isolation tendencies.
Remember, yoga isn’t a quick fix for life’s emotional challenges, but incorporating yoga practices into your life can have a positive long-term impact. The key is to return to the practices that resonate with you, adjusting them as needed based on the time of day or the day of the week.
Read on as we explain how a yoga practice can provide support when you’re dealing with intense emotions. Yoga can’t magically solve mental health issues, but it can be a powerful tool to manage emotional symptoms and change how you experience emotional pain. The goal is to use yoga as a foundation to become more curious and less judgmental about your emotions. Instead of getting completely caught up in the struggle, yoga can help you step back from emotional overwhelm, be kinder to yourself, and approach your emotions with a sense of inquiry.
The guidance that follows is for anyone looking to use yoga’s principles and practices to boost their emotional well-being, helping them navigate daily stresses more effectively.
Breathing Exercises (Pranayama)
Dedicating a few minutes to observe your breathing patterns can start making a difference in your emotional well-being. Simply recognizing your breath is beneficial, but there are specific practices, known as pranayama in yoga, that can bring about more significant changes when used intentionally.
It’s important to tailor your breathwork to how you want to feel since not all breathing practices are relaxing. If you’re feeling low, energizing breathwork can lift your spirits and get you moving. On the other hand, if you’re anxious or worried, a practice that calms your sympathetic nervous system and promotes relaxation is more suitable.
Here are some breathwork techniques to try based on your goals:
- For relaxation:Try Extended Exhale Breathing. Inhale deeply, then exhale for a longer duration than your inhale. For instance, breathe in for four slow counts, then exhale for six slow counts. Repeat this five to 10 times and observe how your mind and body start to relax. You can adjust the counts as you go, exhaling for eight counts instead of six.
- For boosting concentration and reducing overwhelm: Attempt Box Breathing (square breathing). Breathe in for four counts, hold your breath for four counts, exhale for four counts, and again hold your breath for four counts. Keep each part even in duration, and repeat five to 10 times.
- For uplifting feelings: Breath of Fire (Kapalbhati Breath) is an energizing technique. Place your hand on your belly, inhale deeply, and then forcefully push the air out through your nostrils by drawing in your abdomen quickly. Start slowly to get the hang of it, then speed up to a fast pace, like a moving train. Begin with ten quick breaths and repeat several rounds.
- For stabilizing mood, Consider Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi shodhan pranayam). This simple technique can help stabilize your mood by releasing accumulated stress and unblocking the body’s subtle energy channels.
- For settling down:Consider Psychic Breath (Ujjayi pranayama). It helps you dive deeper into yourself. To practice it, sit with your eyes closed and your back straight. Inhale while partially closing the glottis in your throat, creating a sighing sound. Exhale normally. Repeat for a few minutes or as long as comfortable. This practice will center and calm you and is particularly beneficial for extroverted individuals.
- For bringing confidence and energy:Lion Roaring (Singh garjana) is great for introverts. It brings energy and confidence when required. To practice, sit on your heels with your big toes touching and heels apart. Place your hands on the floor between your knees with your palms flat and fingers pointing back towards you, elbows straight. Take a big inhale, and as you exhale, release a loud roar while sticking out your tongue and rolling your eyes from the ceiling to the floor. Repeat a few times as is comfortable.
Keep in mind that breathing exercises have been shown to produce the described results in research and with clients, but individual responses may vary. Exploring different approaches without judgment to see what works best for you is a very yogic approach to take.
Yoga Poses (Asanas)
Yoga postures, known as asanas, are among the most recognizable aspects of yoga. They have the power to positively impact your emotional well-being. The key to a successful start in physical yoga practice is to be mindful of your body and how it feels. This not only helps prevent injuries but also enables you to get “out of your head” and into your body.
While we’ll describe a few postures here, there are many more to discover. We recommend seeking guidance from a qualified practitioner to create a practice tailored to you. Remember that everyone responds differently, and your experience may vary from day to day. It’s not about how the postures look but how they make you feel that truly matters. While a yoga mat can be helpful, it’s not essential for practicing asanas. If you’re a paddleboarder, you can even practice yoga on a paddleboard!
Here are some restorative yoga postures to get you started:
1. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
This pose is all about finding calm and shifting your mind into a meditative state. It gently stretches your lower back and hips, promoting relaxation and helping with stress and anxiety relief. To practice, kneel and sit on your heels with your big toes touching. Keep your hands on your knees and spread your knees hip-width apart. Bend your torso forward, placing your face on the ground. Extend your arms in front of you with your palms facing down. Spend a few minutes in this soothing posture.
This pose is excellent for the spine, relieving backaches from squeezed discs and promoting emotional release and surrender. It encourages a childlike, humble mind and helps balance your emotions.
2. Tree Pose (Eka Pada Pranamasana)
This standing pose challenges your physical balance and strengthens your legs. By learning to concentrate to balance your body, you can positively affect your mental and emotional state. Place the sole of one foot on the inside thigh of the opposite leg, ensuring your standing leg is straight and strong. Hands in a prayer pose, and when balanced, raise your hands and gaze up. Closing your eyes can add an extra challenge.
3. Bridge Pose (Sethu Bandhasana)
The bridge pose strengthens back muscles, buttocks, and hamstrings while relieving a tired back. It’s excellent for managing stress, anxiety, and depression. To perform this pose, lie on your back with your arms by your sides and palms facing down. Lift your legs by folding them at the knees, ensuring ankles and knees align. Gently lift your back off the floor, keeping thighs parallel and chest touching your chin.
4. Upward-Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
This pose can help with mild fatigue and depression. It rejuvenates your body and relieves stress trapped in your back. Lie face down with your legs, toes pointing down, and arms near your chest, palms facing down. Lift your torso, straighten your arms and legs slightly off the floor, pressing the top part of your feet firmly into the ground. Keep your chest high and shoulders away from your ears.
5. Cobra Pose (Bhujhangasan)
The cobra pose expands the chest, reducing stress and fatigue. It’s another option to consider for an emotional lift. Start by lying flat on your stomach with your legs extended and the tops of your feet touching the mat. Your hands are placed beside your shoulders, with your palms facing down. As you lift your chest off the ground, your pelvis and lower abdomen remain on the mat. Your elbows may have a slight bend. Your legs are generally relaxed and stay on the ground.
6. Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
This pose allows fresh blood to flow through your body, and it’s a fantastic stress reliever. It stretches your neck and cervical spine, reducing anxiety and promoting calmness. Additionally, it strengthens your abdominal muscles and aids digestion. To practice, create a “table” shape with your body, using your legs and hands as the table legs and your back as the tabletop. Straighten your elbows and knees, lift your hips into an inverted V-shape, and ensure your hands are shoulder-width apart and your toes point forward. Press your hands firmly into the ground, and maintain a straight neck with your ears close to your inner arms while focusing your gaze on your navel.
7. Plow Pose (Halasana)
Halasana is a posture that eases back strain, improves posture, stretches your brain, and reduces stress. It can also help alleviate headaches and insomnia. Lie on your back, keep your arms by your sides, lift your legs to a 90-degree angle, and use your hands as support to raise your hips toward your chest. Slowly lower your legs over your head, touching the ground beyond your head and keeping your thighs straight. Extend your arms forward and rest your palms on the ground, facing downward.
8. Standing Forward Fold Pose (Uttanasana)
Holding this pose for a few minutes relaxes the mind, combats stress and depression, and releases tension in the back, shoulders, and neck. It’s also beneficial for the nervous system and reduces anxiety. Improved blood circulation is an additional advantage. To practice, stand with your arms by your sides and feet hip-width apart. Place your hands on your hips and bend forward at the hips until your head and chest touch your thighs. Bring your hands down beside your feet or hold your ankles from behind while keeping your thighs straight.
9. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Corpse pose offers ultimate relaxation for both body and mind. It rejuvenates you, helps your body unwind, lowers blood pressure, and allows the benefits of the previous poses to settle in. To practice Savasana, lie on your back with your feet slightly apart, arms alongside your body, palms facing upward, and eyes gently closed. Relax your entire body, take deep breaths, and be present in the moment.
These yoga poses can provide peace and relaxation, so give them a try to discover which ones resonate with you!
When our minds become crowded with worries, regrets, judgments, and numerous other concerns, it can throw us off balance. We’ve learned a short meditation and visualization technique that can be of help.
Meditation plays a vital role in yoga, involving focused concentration. You don’t have to clear your mind to meditate; simply acknowledging your thoughts and allowing them to pass can be therapeutic.
Here’s a simple practice to enhance mindfulness. Dedicate at least two minutes daily to:
- Find a comfortable sitting or lying position, then focus on your breath and heartbeat. You can close your eyes or soften your gaze.
- Gently scan your body from head to toe, noting any tension, sensations, or discomfort. Try to release any tightness.
- Offer kind thoughts to yourself using mantras like ‘I create space for self-kindness,’ ‘I embrace challenges with acceptance,’ or ‘I’m moving toward emotional well-being.’ Bring your attention back to the present moment.
For beginners, guided meditations on apps like Insight Timer or Calm can be helpful to stay on track.
Another way to stay present is by cultivating gratitude. Practicing gratitude won’t erase life’s challenges, but it can change how you react to them.
You can also try a gratitude exercise: Light a candle and reflect on three things you’re grateful for, whether it’s family, home, health, a joyful moment, or a simple pleasure. Notice the sensations in your body as you think about each one. You can also maintain a gratitude journal to track your sources of gratitude. The level of depth or simplicity is entirely up to you.
Yoga offers a holistic approach to enhancing emotional well-being. It provides a toolkit of practices, from physical postures to meditation and breathwork, that can help individuals manage stress, anxiety, and depression. In an increasingly hectic world, the timeless wisdom of yoga remains a valuable ally in nurturing emotional well-being.