Yoga for the mind

Rakesh Kumar’s yoga classes are proving to be a hit with patients with mental health problems 

When it comes to mental health, we often think and talk about the mind and body as if they were completely separate – but they aren’t. Your mind can’t function unless your body is working properly, but it also works the other way round: your state of mind affects your body.

At the mental health unit where I work in Bangor, north Wales, we offer weekly exercise sessions based on yoga that are designed to address the needs of people with mental health problems. An estimated 50,000 people in north Wales will experience depression every year and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has made it a priority to improve the physical health of people with mental health issues.

This is part of the board’s strategy to address the ‘whole person’ in terms of care. When depression or any other mental health problem deepens or persists for a long period, it can suppress the energy for living. Often a person with depression will stop moving as exercise becomes intolerable. Inactivity can exacerbate the depression and make the person vulnerable to poor physical health.

We aim to combat this vicious cycle by encouraging our patients to take part in regular sessions of yoga-based relaxation and light physical exercise.

Yoga also helps with breathing, which typically becomes distorted in people who are depressed, and this can worsen the condition, causing anxiety, deeper depression, stress or fear. The physical postures and breathing exercises we teach are designed to encourage deeper and more natural breathing, which can help to stimulate glands and organs, and improve circulation.

We have found that the programme we offer helps to lift the heavy, lethargic feeling of depression, elevating patients’ mood and reducing stress and anxiety during their hospital stay.

We encourage our patients to continue these exercises and breathing techniques after they have been discharged from hospital, too, to help them maintain their mental health.

We are not recommending yoga as an independent treatment option for people with severe depression but in combination with a healthy diet, regular exercise and medication when needed, the programme we have evolved has proved helpful.

If you would like more information, email me at

  • Rakesh Kumar is a clinical specialist physiotherapist at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board
Rakesh Kumar is a clinical specialist physiotherapist at Betsi

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