Mental Health and Yoga…
After this week (and this year!!) I wanted to chat with you and highlight why people rave about practicing yoga for their mental health. I knows it’s been a wild ride since last March and I hope this shines a light on something that I know has certainly helped me and many others.
I will take you back to where I started because I imagine many of you will relate. I started practicing to help me become more flexible, to help me avoid injuries whilst playing sport and honestly chasing the ‘ideal’ of feeling fit and being slim. I was drawn into the intensity of hot yoga – the challenge and the sweat – and whilst I started practicing outside of the heat in a normal studio, it was still that physical intensity that I was hooked too.
By about a year or so into practicing (I practiced alot, maybe 6 times a week with a great teacher) I was quite focused and able to get into ‘the zone’. That zone being a space where you are not distracted by what’s going on around you and you feel connected to what you are doing – the movements, the breathing, the being there. And one day during quite a physical class emotion just totally bubbled over for me, I felt over whelmed, I was crying and I just couldn’t stop it. It was almost like shock.
I remember sitting with the owner of the studio and I was thinking WHAT ON EARTH. I remember her saying so calmly ‘that is just the yoga, it is just part of the practice’. I am not sure if my first reaction to this was total alarm, but once I calmed down I realised wow you can be so physically into this and at the same time so aware of how you are feeling deep down. What is on your mind, what is troubling you and how you really feel.
I don’t tell you this to freak you out. In fact quite the opposite. As an osteopath my primary focus when I am teaching you is the quality of your movement, ensuring you avoid injury and then second to that – your enjoyment. However there is a space (or a zone) that you find yourself in once you get comfortable with the movement, the breathing, the balancing – and I think it is that space is where you tap into the mental health benefits that you need. You don’t have to actively force being in that space and you don’t choose to start analysing your mind, your thoughts and feelings when you are there. It is almost like subconsciously you are letting everything ‘work itself out’ or ‘settle’ or ‘unravel’. I don’t know if I can quite find the right word there but hopefully you understand what I am trying to get across?
More simply put maybe – practicing allows you to turn off from distraction, you are giving yourself an hour or 30 minutes away from what ever is going on in your day or your week. And in a world where we are constantly stimulated, notified, alerted… You are taking time to let the body physically relax, to drop the tension you carry around with you and to soften the areas you hold so tight.
Another big aspect of practice is the breathing, noticing and controlling this. Slowing down the breath, or playing with breathing patterns can not only improve your ability to breathe and exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen, but it can decrease levels of stress hormones circulating in the body – and therefore calming your nervous system. There is also science to show controlling the breath has interactions with the brain, in particular the hypothalamus which is connected to our emotional state.
I am not going to bombard you with any more, or overwhelm you with science. I think you will all get there and feel it for yourself one day, you will find ‘that zone’ or a version of that which will help you.
If you have any questions or you want to reach out to me, you know where I am. I hope this shined a little light on something that really has helped me and so many others with their health – the mental and the physical.