How Yoga Can Support Mental Health; The Mind Body Connection


In this video I explain some of the psychology and neuroscience behind yoga’s ability to create a stronger mind-body connection and how this effects your mental health and well-being.


Central to a mind-body practice like yoga, especially when practicing yoga postures, is the experience of body sensations.

This is called interoception- and someone’s ability to notice body sensations is dependent on experience. The more you practice the more you can feel- the stronger your mind body connection becomes.


The mind-body connection and mental well-being

Before I dive into the science behind this, I want to explain what to explain the effects of a strong mind-body connection. There are 2 psychological constructs I want to mention- being present and agency.

1. Being present is being in the moment, in the now, being mindful, being aware, being in the world in the present moment. Your body is always in the present moment. But your mind has the ability to be in the past, the future, and the present. By becoming more aware of body sensations you can use those sensations to anchor your attention, your mind, in the present moment.

2. Next is agency, agency is knowing that you can create change in your environment (outside or internal). When you develop a strong body-mind connection you become aware that you can change body sensations through behaviour. For example, what you eat, how you sleep, how you move, how you think, all these can affect body sensations and your overall mood. All these behaivours, for the most part, are under you control. Knowing this, is so important for self-regulation. Being aware of body sensations and therefore knowing when your body is sending a signal is fundamental for you to be able to respond and create change.


Becoming Embodied

Practicing being aware of body sensations is associated with increased activity in brain areas associated with interoception. These areas include the somatosensory cortex, insula cortex, frontal cortex. Interoceptive practice is thought to change cortical maps associated with noticing body sensations.

The more one’s attention is placed on the present moment body sensations, then this pulls attention away from our learnt automatic emotional processes.

We only have some much attention, where we place it is important. Being mindful of body sensations is thought to eats up some of the bandwidth.

With attention placed on body sensations you get more information about what is happening for you in the present moment and you can use that information to guide your behaviour. That is, you can then use your sense of agency to change your environment if needed.

The overall neurological and psychological consequences of developing a deeper mind-body connection include:

  • Becoming more present

  • Cognitive resources are pulled away from automatic reactions that may be maladaptive

  • Awareness of body sensations can be used to create change in your environment


This all leads to increased self-regulation, self confidence, sense of agency, which are all linked to increased mental health and well-being.


About the Author

Dr Kathie Overeem works one-on-one and in group sessions with people who wish to experience the healing and transformational effect of yoga. She works with clients that have experienced stress, anxiety, complex trauma, PTSD, eating disorders, complex mental illness, and people in alcohol and other drug rehabilitation. Classes are offered online and in person in Brisbane.

To book a private session or attend a group class with Kathie Click Here

References:


Lazar, et al. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/arti...


Farb, et al. (2015). Interoception, Contemplative Practice, and Health.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/arti...


Farb, et al. (2012). The Mindful Brain and Emotion Regulation in Mood Disorders. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/arti...

Paddington, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

© 2020 by Kathie Overeem