Throughout the COVID pandemic, an increasing amount of people have turned to yoga to stay physically and mentally fit. As restrictions and closures have interfered with our lifestyles and normal routines, people have sought ways to stay active from home.
Yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India, and it’s well known for having beneficial effects on our physical and mental well-being. On top of this, yoga doesn’t require expensive equipment and can be done in a small space, making it perfect for those of us stuck at home right now.
Depending on the type of yoga and its associated philosophy, the different postures and breathing techniques allow us to explore our bodies and minds in new ways, offering us periods of stillness that act as an opportunity to face our problems and thoughts head-on.
TMS spoke with Goni Jung, a yoga instructor at Rosewood Hong Kong’s wellbeing lifestyle community, Asaya, to learn how yoga can improve our mental health.
Jung’s journey to yoga
“When I was in Korea in my early 20s, I was part of a swimming training group there,” Jung recalls. “I came across yoga classes being offered in the same facility, so I gave it a go.
A brief scroll through Jung’s Instagram page reveals she is no newbie when it comes to practicing yoga. In fact, she’s like a duck to water. “It was love at first downward dog,” explains Jung. “I realized I had a natural gift as the yoga teacher assumed I was a teacher myself.”
This serendipitous encounter led Jung to start practicing and teaching yoga in several different countries while exploring its various styles and methodologies. There are many different types of yoga – from Ashtanga yoga, popular for being challenging and requiring strong athletic skills, to restorative yoga, which focuses on a few poses for increased flexibility and stress relief. Although Jung enjoys all forms of yoga, she does have a favorite style.
“My favorite of all is alignment based yoga, as we can build physical strength, balance and flexibility all at the same time,” explains Jung. “It also allows us to build mental strength, which is so beneficial to other parts of life.”
Like many people who have had to adjust to more time spent at home, Jung has developed her own daily mental health routine. “I believe we get joy from the little things in life – feeling gratitude, having your favorite milk tea, quick meditation or stretching and so on,” she says. “For me, [it’s] morning yoga, music, surrounding myself with plants, making healthy snacks. It sounds simple, and perhaps it is. If we only get satisfaction and happiness for the bigger things, then our daily lives will be less fulfilling.”
Jung introduced us to a beginner’s yoga pose, the Balasana (child’s pose), which we can practice at home to relieve stress. Beneficial to both the lymphatic and nervous systems, Jung says this pose will help calm your mind and release stress while stretching your body and relieving neck and back pain.
“Start by kneeling down and sitting on your heels,” she says. “Now, bend forward till your [belly] touches your thighs. Let your hands rest on the side. Hold this position as long as possible and breathe deeply,” Jung explains.
Mental and physical well-being
“Yoga definitely makes me become more positive, grounded and centered after my practice, and this positive energy I cultivate affects those around me. When I’m happy, I become a better person to others and build stronger relationships with my people,” explains Jung.
The benefits of yoga can, of course, vary for different people. While some may say that yoga rewards us with healing or improved physique, muscle strength, flexibility, health and more, many also vouch for how yoga helps reduce stress.
“When we feel physically fit and healthy, it positively affects our mood,” explains Jung. “We become more vibrant and happy. We also build patience and endurance doing challenging poses, so it can also make us build mental strength in life. Ultimately, mental strength has so much more power to influence a wider set of outcomes than physical strength.
“Yoga helps us focus better and become more mindful of things we do, creating more clarity and calmness, relaxing the mind and becoming more grateful.”
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