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Discovering the art of yoga

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Have you ever felt detached and separated from your own mind and body? This is an incredibly normal feeling to have, especially in situations where you feel unsafe, out of control, or isolated, and the past year really hasn’t helped with that. 

I desperately wanted to be present in my own mind and to feel connected to my body again. Having heard about the multiple benefits of regularly practicing yoga, I decided to give it a try. When I began to keep it up consistently, I’ve discovered that I can better manage my anxiety and stress, and apply the skills I’ve learned in yoga to all aspects of my life. This wonderful routine has proved for me that small, positive steps can dramatically improve your mental state. 

When practicing yoga, there isn’t time to think about life’s endless worries because you’re completely in the moment, concentrated on the breath and how you feel on the mat. It is a holiday away from thinking about the past and the future – you are grounded in the present. The best part of yoga is that there is no competition; it’s adaptable for anyone, no matter your age or ability; you take it at your own pace. You don’t have to be super bendy or flexible, it’s all about the body and the breath being in harmony with one another. 

Often, when people hear the word ‘yoga’, they think of silly looking poses, contortionist-style stretches, and saying Namaste, but there is so much more to it than that. It is a comprehensive practice that focuses on the mindfulness of breathing (Pranayama), self-discipline (Niyama), meditating whilst moving with your breath (Dhyana), and allows your body to take up a state of rest (Savasana). 

Savasana can be a difficult pose to master – it can be hard to let go of tension when staring up at the ceiling. It’s never as simple as saying, ‘okay, time to chill.’ But once you learn to slowly let go and relax each muscle, one by one, you will feel yourself unwind and slip into a deeply refreshing time-out. 

This sense of inner peace opens up the possibility of a new perspective. Working on this helps us to remain conscious of our thoughts and feelings, which is an important part of our wellbeing. Since practicing yoga, I have noticed a massive difference in myself both mentally and physically. As someone who suffers from fibromyalgia, a condition which causes widespread pain and extreme tiredness, yoga calms my muscle tension and centres my nervous system. 

I felt apprehensive when yoga was first suggested to me. If it’s the same for you, don’t worry. Trying anything new can be scary and create worries. The great thing about yoga is that it helps reduce those worries; it has been proven to reduce cortisol (the primary stress hormone). Surely, anything that reduces stress has got to be a good thing.

Want to give it a go? Ease yourself in

Taking on something new that is going to change both your body and your mind can be a big challenge, especially if things are tough for you right now. 

  • Find a yoga teacher that’s right for you. Feeling comfortable and trusting of your yoga instructor will make a big difference in your practice. Try Jessica Richburg or Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube for free videos or sign yourself up to a site that offers a range of videos such as Glo.
  • Respect the limits of your own body and don’t push it to do something it’s not ready for – try a beginner’s class. It’s important not to rush yourself and take it at whatever pace feels right for you.
  • Remember to breathe – the breath is central to yoga in helping you connect with your body. There are many breathing techniques to try, such as ocean breath (Ujjayi) and lion’s breath (Simhasana). 
  • Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Only compare with your past self and the progress you have made. 
  • If you’re not feeling it with one type of yoga, such as Yin, try a different style such as Hatha. There are so many styles to choose from! Don’t be put off because you don’t enjoy one style. 

Need some more convincing? Hear from the wider community

Brig reached out to those who have experienced the benefits of yoga, hearing from people who have been practicing yoga for a while, and from people who took it up during the pandemic. 

Niamh Walsh, a nutrition and lifestyle coach, helps women manage their IBS and find food freedom by changing their relationship with stress: “I practice yoga daily and it has really helped me through all three lockdowns. I absolutely think there is a link between yoga and having a healthy relationship with your body, as well as with food. Often when people think of yoga, they just think of the movement, but yoga literally translates to ‘union’ – it is the connection of the body and mind with compassion is at its core. 

“Compassion is at its core.”

“Personally, practicing yoga has been life changing, not just on my journey to becoming IBS free. I am far less critical of myself and have seen a huge mindset shift since being consistent with my practice.”

Joe Nutkins, an AC accredited dog trainer from Essex, started yoga last August when she discovered yoga for menopause: “Yoga sessions work brilliantly for my fibromyalgia symptoms, as they are taught in a gentle way and modifications are always offered.

“There are poses that help with strengthening, balance etc. but also breathing exercises and poses that help with anxiety and stress. I’ve really found doing yoga helps me feel calmer and stronger. I also feel less pain and sleep better.”

Joe does yoga a little differently from the other people Brig interviewed, as she does it with her duck, Echo – the world’s first ever trick duck. Her dogs love to join in too. 

“My two terriers ‘help’ by laying on my back when I’m on the floor, and when my house duck is in the room, she sits on my foot or my leg – they seem to pick up on the sense of calmness. I tried yoga in previous years but found just the initial stretches painful, which meant I couldn’t do more than a few minutes. With the gentler yoga, however, I’m able to do up to an hour and pause when needed. It has changed my mindset positively by showing me that self-care does make a huge difference to my overall productivity.”

Janice Tracey, a nutritional therapist, encourages her clients to practice yoga and practices it herself: “Over the past 12 months I have used yoga less for physical strength and flexibility and more for bringing structures for ‘working at home day’ and relaxation at the end of the day.

“Whilst I know from personal experience that yoga brings physical benefits such as core strength, cardio health, muscle tone and flexibility, over the last year, I’ve been recommending various yoga practices to help with mental resilience and stress management. The pandemic hit those with health challenges more severely, increasing anxiety, stress and fear all compounded by the enforced isolation.”

Furrah Syed, artist, educator and creator of the ‘Art Appreciation Workshop for the Blind’, has practiced yoga regularly since the first lockdown, as it has been a lifesaver for her on many levels: “I started yoga five years ago at the gym. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about!

“Yoga never appealed to me as I thought it was too slow paced – my fav exercises are body combat and lifting weights. But then I took part in a class with a fantastic yoga teacher, and I was hooked. I utilise the breathing techniques I learned through yoga to instantly calm me down at times of stress. It is such an underutilized technique!”

Angela Karanja, an adolescent psychologist, was experiencing a difficult period due to her husband falling unwell. Her friend recommended yoga and so Angela took it up to help her with the struggles she was facing: “It does make you feel better. I love it and use it as part and in combination with my meditation practice. It has helped me become more focused, which helps curb the problem of confusion, because you have to be in the present and are constantly being directed back to the present.

“My only regret is that I didn’t start ages ago, but then I am so filled with gratitude that I get to practice it now that I have discovered it and now is the time have and having had really positive experiences, I can encourage parent of teens and teens themselves to try it.”

Imogen Robinson, a trainee yoga instructor and Brig’s features editor, started yoga a year ago, after trying out a variety of exercise classes to improve her mental health: “I started going to exercise classes with my friend in January 2020, because I recognised that a major factor in feeling better is getting the physical exercise in. When in-person exercise classes were no longer an option due to the pandemic, I tried out the free online yoga classes the University of Stirling offers on Vimeo, and it grew from there. Yoga has changed my life.” 

Yoga has changed my life.

“For anyone who wants to take up exercise to improve their mental health, yoga is a great place to start. You can do fast paced Vinyasa flows, or you can take it really slow and do a more Restorative practice. It is very versatile. Generally it’s just about how you are feeling that day.

“All of the yoga instructors that I’ve practiced with are so respectful of the fact that every day, our body is different – some days you will be more balanced and grounded than others, but it’s all a work in progress. For people who are experiencing low mood, that competitive element can dissuade them from taking something up, but yoga is unlike any other form of exercise in that regard. It’s about you, your body, and your journey.” 

Featured Image Credit: Pinterest

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