People decide to come to Yoga & Meditation classes for a vast array of different reasons.
From weight loss, to improving flexibility, strength, feeling a sense of community to reducing stress and alleviating the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
To improve mental well-being, we need to look at ourselves as a whole and also have a focus on physical movement. Improving diet (what we eat and drink- yogic diet) , moving our bodies (asana practice), practicing meditation and learning yoga philosophy. All these elements link together to improve our well-being and mental health.
The mind, body and spirit are all interconnected and cannot be separated. This is why a whole yoga practice both on and off the mat offers a wonderful holistic solution for helping mental wellbeing.
– What is Stress? –
To decide if we are stressed, we must first understand what stress is and how it affects us. The dictionary defines it as…
A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.“he’s obviously under a lot of stress“
|synonyms:||strain, pressure, (nervous) tension, worry, anxiety, trouble, difficulty;informalhassle“he’s under a lot of stress”|
However, it means something different to each and every one of us and affects us all in different ways. It takes toll on both our mental and physical wellbeing.
There are ways and means to change our lives and our mindsets to reduce stress and anxiety, having a regular Yoga & Meditation practice is one of them. If we incorporate a regular practice into our lives, we can start to make positive changes both on and off the mat. Even if its a little habitual change a day, like practicing the sun salutations and doing some gentle breathwork, you would be surprised how much of an impact and a difference it can make in your life.
– How Stress Affects Us –
We are designed to experience stress, it helps engage our natural reactions to deal with situations (such as fight or flight, or letting us know something is wrong or amiss in certain situations).
However, when things become too much for us, it affects both our mind and body. It affects the nervous system making us feel anxious, stressed and uncomfortable.
When our nervous system is out of balance, we feel stressed, depressed or anxious.
Our nervous system has two main branches:
1. Sympathetic – Fight or flight symptoms (Survival mode)
2. Parasympathetic – Resting/relaxed state
When we are feeling stressed, anxious or fearful, our body and nervous system operate in the sympathetic branch of the nervous system. This causes to body to release stress hormones such as cortisol, which, when released too often, takes a toll on the body both physically and mentally. Being in this over-active state makes our mind race and causes us to feel uncomfortable in our own bodies. Often, our heart rate increases and we feel we cannot switch off or relax.
On the converse, when we operate from the parasympathetic part of the nervous system, it over-rides the sympathetic leaving us feeling more rested and calmer.
When we feel stressed and anxious, it stops us from living our lives fully. Leaving us trapped and unable to function how we wish to. It keeps us caged in a bubble of fear and often people will not change and stay in situations because of this fear that stress and anxiety brings.
- Muscle tension or pain
- Chest pain
- Change in sex drive
- Stomach upset
- Sleep problems
- Lack of motivation or focus
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Irritability or anger
- Sadness or depression
- Overeating or under eating
- Angry outbursts
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Tobacco use
- Social withdrawal
- Exercising less often
A majority of these symptoms are invisible to the eye.
Yoga and meditation can help alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
By having a regular practice, you can start to change your lifestyle to improve physical and mental wellbeing.
– How Yoga and Meditation can improve physical and mental well-being –
1. Practicing Yoga Routinely has a positive effect on body, mind and spirit.
Having a daily practice and devoting your time to learning meditation and philosophy will facilitate positive changes in your life. Find a teacher who doesn’t have a gym focus with body aesthetics in mind, but is focused on philosophy and meditation as well as asana practice, to guide you in developing a regular yoga practice. Ashtanga Yoga is good for this. A regular Mysore Ashtanga practice helps you to learn a sequence safely and well that you can practice on your own in your own time and rhythm.
“Yoga chitta vritti nirodha”– Yoga Sutras 1.2
Improving fitness, strength and flexibility is a bonus, but not the aim of the game. If you find a teacher who embraces all aspects of yoga, it can really have a positive influence on your life and help you to still your mind and de-stress.
2. Asana practice – Moving the body helps reduce stress and anxiety.
Asana is defined most commonly as the posture practice in Yoga, where we flow through poses or hold statically for a set time. Ideally, we should be moving consistently for 30 minutes minimum daily, or at least 5 days in a week. It is important for both our mental and physical health. Exercise releases endorphins, which help alleviate both mental and physical pain as well as having a calming effect on the mind. It keeps our minds, muscles, body and organs supple; plus it improves our cardio-vascular health.
Having a regular practice helps us attain this, working mindfully with the body also has a positive and meditative effect on the mind. However there are other ways of incorporating movement into our lives also:
Walking the dogs for 30 minutes a day, or cycling and swimming; anything that gets us moving is so beneficial. Co-blogger Sarah is often out in the mountains to combat anxiety and stress. If we practice mindfully and with awareness, any task we do can become a mindfulness practice.
3. Yoga helps us reflect on what we’re putting in our bodies
Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, drugs (legal and otherwise), processed food and sugar.
All these will have an effect on our physical and mental well-being.
These things give you a quick boost, then a low. We know they are bad for us, but a lot of us reach out for them anyways.
We should be aiming for things that keep us constant. Not things that bring us up, to bring us crashing down, be it 20 mins, an hour, or a day later.
Can you cut/reduce any of these things out your diet? Try eating more fruit and vegetables and perhaps consider a more plant based diet.
It may be challenging at 1st, but you will feel the benefits later.
We literally are what we eat/drink and what we put into our bodies.
Our bodies use vitamins, minerals , proteins, carbohydrates and other compounds from our food to re-build our bodies from a cellular level. What we eat and what we drink is super important for our health, emotional and physical.
Both moving and diet are interlinked…
The more we exercise and move the body, or practice meditation and mindfulness, the more we tend to eat healthier and vice versa. When we eat healthier we tend to have more energy and feel like we want to be active.
On the converse,
the more we stay in, lounge around and are not active, the more likely we are to reach for food to match our mood.
When we are not exercising, we tend to reach for the processed and sugary food, or opt for takeaways. Both are important and go hand in hand.
4. We actively start to do things to Calm the Mind
We need to create space for ourselves. We owe it to ourselves to have calm periods of time in every day. Not only will we benefit, but others in our lives will too.
It is ESSENTIAL to create space to facilitate healing.
We need to stop being so busy, for our minds sake. One thing I and many others have found so crucial in reducing stress, is facilitating time into our days and into our lives to switch off and allow the mind to still.
Allow yourself some calming time, every day, with no phone, no laptop and no distractions. Just you, facilitating relaxation in your day.
It may be curling up on the sofa with your favourite book, having a nice relaxing bath or watching your favourite TV series with a cup of tea. Any time like this in your day is valuable. Cherish it and value it.
5. We reflect and start to meditate, hopefully making it a daily routine…
There are many useful guided meditation videos on YouTube that are great for beginners, or advanced alike. These will help you to reach a calm mind quite easily and with practice. It might take a few goes, but the mind is a tool that needs to be trained like any other muscle. We also cover a range of meditation practices in our Sunday Zoom Class.
5. We start to do things that make our soul happy
When we have a regular Yoga & Meditation practice, we naturally start to slow down and make time for ourselves.
Do Yoga, meditate, catch up with friends, cook inspiring healthy meals, buy a smoothie maker. Read a book with a cuppa. Cuddle lots. Spend time with children and with animals. Finish that DIY task you’ve been putting off, book a flight to somewhere you’ve dreamt of going, say ‘I love you’ to someone and mean it, smile at strangers, be polite to all, kill folk with kindness.
All these things are guaranteed to be good for your soul.
6. We start to incorporate positivity into out lives…
Surround yourself with positive people, positive music and positive hobbies.
If your workplace, friends or family members are negative, it can be difficult to escape. Try not to engage in negative talk and remove yourself from negative situations as best you can.
The more you do positive things, the more positive people will start to appear in your life. Be it starting a new class, going to yoga, the gym or joining a local running club.
Listening to positive music, reading and watching TV shows/documentaries with positive messages and doing positive hobbies will all have a benefit on stress and anxiety.
7. We look to improve the quality of our sleep
Aim for 8 hours of sleep a night. Make bed-time a priority, make it relaxing and an enjoyable peaceful time. If you struggle sleeping, sometimes sleep music can be a great aid to getting to sleep, or sleep hypnosis.
Make sure to switch off from technology atleast an hour before bedtime.
8. Engage more and listen to Relaxing Music
Some music I like to listen to are binaural beats. They really help with relaxation and have the following benefits (from medical news today):
- reduced stress.
- reduced anxiety.
- increased focus.
- increased concentration.
- increased motivation.
- increased confidence.
It has been proven to aid relaxation and reduce stress, so listening to these whilst working, relaxing, or practicing Yoga and Meditation can help alleviate stress.