Yoga for Mental Health
As a yoga teacher, you might wonder the same: what style of yoga should I teach to support students experiencing mental health challenges?
There are dynamic styles of yoga that focus on movement, stretching, and building strength, like vinyasa yoga, ashtanga yoga, hatha flow classes, and sometimes even hatha yoga classes, depending on the teacher. These yoga classes focus on asana practice with some attention to the breath and breathing practices. Often, the idea is that through movement, students are able to release stress and tension, and are able to find a place of inner calm toward the end of the session.
Then, there are the more static styles of yoga that are slower-paced and often more gentle, like yin yoga, restorative yoga, somatic yoga, viniyoga, and hatha yoga. These classes often spend equal amounts of time on asana practice, breathing exercises, and relaxation or meditation. And when this is not the case, the yoga postures are approached with a mindful and meditative mind. This means that movement and form are less important and that students are encouraged to be mindful of sensations and their inner experiences. These are great styles of yoga for students that enjoy relaxing and are looking for a more interiorized yoga experience.
Each style of yoga has its own approach to practicing yoga postures and when and how it includes other yoga techniques like breathing exercises, concentration, relaxation, and meditation.
So what is the best style of yoga for anxiety and depression?
“it depends on the person who is experiencing anxiety and depression”.
When we teach group classes, it’s not possible to do an assessment of each one of our students and figure out what they need.
Luckily, while we’re all different, we also have similarities. Mental health challenges often show up as clusters of symptoms that show up in similar ways for many people.
So let me answer the question “which Yoga is best for anxiety and depression?” by going back to the beginning of this article.
Just like there are different styles of yoga (e.g. dynamic, static, active, passive) there are different ways in which people experience anxiety and depression.
Someone who feels anxious, irritable, restless, and easily angered probably has a lot of build-up stress and tension. Because their nervous system is activated, they may find it very difficult to relax and they probably won’t enjoy a slow and gentle yoga class. By offering these students some movement, especially at the beginning of your yoga class, they will be able to find some release and enjoy the more gentle postures towards the end of your class when their nervous system has calmed down.
These students may be drawn to the more dynamic styles of yoga because it helps them to feel calm and relaxed after a good workout. Yoga styles that can support these people are styles of yoga that include movement, like slow flows, Vinyasa yoga, ashtanga yoga, hatha flow, yin yang yoga, and hatha yoga.
On the other hand, people who feel anxious, scattered, exhausted, irritable, and overstimulated will probably benefit from a very gentle approach to yoga that allows them to center, ground, and restore their energy. I’d recommend them to try yin yoga, restorative yoga, hatha yoga, and somatic yoga.
Similarly, a student that feels depressed and lethargic benefits from getting their energy flowing. Unfortunately, their lethargy makes that exercise is the last thing they want to do. A vinyasa yoga class, for example, may be too much for them. Especially since lethargy can also be the result of feeling frozen which can be a trauma response. These students typically need a more gentle and gradual start to movement and work towards a peak moment in the class. I’d recommend hatha yoga, a slow flow class, yin yoga, or somatic yoga.
We can conclude that the best approach to yoga for depression and anxiety is an individual one. Nevertheless, we can offer group classes that are geared towards supporting people with similar characteristics:
1. Find the right audience for the style of Yoga you teach
Stick with the style of yoga that you are currently teaching and create a class for the audience that will benefit most from that style of yoga. For example, if you’re a vinyasa yoga teacher, offer a class on yoga for stress and anxiety. Just make sure to educate yourself on being trauma-sensitive and mental health aware before niching down to teach yoga for anxiety. I would not recommend trying to teach yoga for mental health without additional training as you’ll be working with a vulnerable population that needs a more specialized approach to yoga, so it’s important for you to know the best practices and contra-indications before running your classes.
2. Join a Yoga for Mental Health Teacher Training
Join a yoga for mental health teacher training course that is multi-style (like this one) so that you can confidently teach a variety of yoga classes and workshops to support students experiencing mental health challenges like anxiety, depression, burnout, and high sensitivity.
If you are ready to take your yoga teaching to the next level and have a keen interest in teaching yoga for anxiety, depression, burnout, or high sensitivity, check out our advanced 80h teacher training. Our Yoga for Mental Health TTC is a LIVE online program that starts in September and runs over the course of an academic year.
After completing the program you’ll be able to confidently offer:
Check out our 1-year Somatic Yoga for Mental Health Teacher Training program here.
Deniz Aydoslu, MSc, E-RYT, is a criminologist and Yoga for Mental Health Teacher and teacher trainer. She researches and teaches on the intersection of embodied movement and mental health, including yoga, somatics, dance, mindfulness, and relaxation therapy. She creates soft yet powerful healing spaces where people can reconnect to their bodies, feelings, and heart so that they can live with more resilience, authenticity, and joy.
Deniz is the founder of Somatic Yoga for Mental Health and runs teacher training programs for yoga teachers and (mental) health professionals. She is a Yoga Alliance Certified Continuing Education Provider.