We all go through moments in our life that can make us feel stressed out, worried and anxious – it’s a normal part of life. Sometimes these feelings are short lived, other times they feel consuming, but in both cases, it is our thought patterns that are being distorted and this makes us freeze. Simple things can feel overwhelming, and these feelings, if not re-balanced, can have a huge effect on our lives.
So how can yoga help? Yoga practice brings awareness to our body and mind. While we often cannot alter the situations around us, yoga shows us how we are able to take control of our internal environment.
Yoga helps on a number of levels;
- Firstly, the physical movements require attention, forcing us to be in the present moment. Anxiety arises when we begin to worry about future events, so anything that grounds us in the now, is going to be beneficial. Observing our body moving calms the mind, but also releases happy hormones such as dopamine and other neurotransmitters which give our system a well needed positive boost.
- Secondly, we draw attention to the breath – again, a physical distraction. Deeper breathing help to calm our nervous system, helping us think more clearly and feel more in control.
- For me, the most important part of every class are the meditative elements. Meditation techniques help alleviate anxiety and also act as a prevention. If we can bring awareness to how we are feeling, then we can notice our anxieties rising, and do something about it before it reaches that overwhelming stage. By taking our yoga practice off the mat, we can truly begin to balance our mind and body. It teaches us that we can stay in the moment, recognise worrying thoughts, and prevent them from getting worse.
The science part:Yoga creates subtle changes to our attitudes and emotions, but with huge effect – one scientific report demonstrated that during 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain responsible for calming down feelings of worry) becomes activated, and anxiety levels were shown to drop by as much as 39%! While a single meditation class can lower anxiety short term, regular practice has been shown to lower the baseline level of emotional arousal, so if something negative happens that causes worries to rise up, you meet it with presence and curiosity, rather than acting in fear.
So if you are ever feeling overwhelmed, edgy, or simply in need of some peace, grab your mat, find a quiet spot and know that flowing through your practice will bring you back to yourself.