Sometimes in times of challenge, when all seems mad around us, we need to find a quiet place, to give ourselves time to heal, to gather our strength. Rolling out your yoga mat can offer this. In this article, I´ll take a closer look at why this might be so and how yoga can support you.
Breathing techniques (pranayama) to calm and centre
Many yoga classes will start by focusing on breathing, either with specific breath control techniques (pranayama) or simply as a breath meditation so that we fully arrive on the mat (come into the present).
When times are challenging, we can repeat things over and over in our head, going through different scenarios (or sometimes replaying the same one). This tends to have a knock-on effect on our breathing, making it shallower (so the body does not get the full benefit of the breath and oxygen). Pranayama can be used to channel our attention to our breathing and can be used to bring yourself into your centre, finding calmness. There are number of useful pranayama techniques that you can practice, both on and off your mat. One of these techniques is three-part breathing (dirga pranayama).
You might also be interested in reading our earlier article: yoga breathing – how to breathe in yoga and feel the benefits.
To become present
Some people liken a yoga class to meditation. If you practice yoga in a gym, at first glance it might not seem that way, however, it can still offer this experience. For example, deep tummy breathing as you move in and out of asanas can be used throughout the class. By focusing on your breathing, and on your body (where you position your arms / feet, how the muscles feel and so on), it can help you to become present. In the present moment the problems tend to drop away and you can forget the “madness” or the problems.
Camaraderie and a shared experience
One thing I loved in London was finding a class with a teacher that I could attend regularly. I would see the same faces each class, and in a city that is known for being a little stand-off-ish sometimes, getting to know people in my local yoga class was a great plus. There are many benefits for choosing to attend a class each week at the same time. And even if you cannot do it in person right now, we can still do this online – attending a weekly class you will see the same faces. Before summer, when we were running a Yin class each Friday night, I would open the class early and stay on a little longer so that people could say hi to each other. There is a bond that forms with people who share an activity like yoga at the same time.
Sometimes when all the chaos and stress is going on in daily life, going to a class with others can give you a lift, it takes you out of the worries and you can have 60 minutes with others, whilst also having your own space. The “hellos” and the chit-chat can help you to feel not so isolated, to feel part of something else, something nice.
Learn to listen to your body
In my classes I usually encourage students to listen to their body. By that, I mean to tune in, to become aware of feelings (both physical sensations going on around your body as well as emotions), to understand how your body likes to move, how it might try to protect certain areas of the body that are “hurting” in some way. As we practice on the mat, so you can take this skill into the world off the mat.
Amanda explores a linked topic in her earlier article: find your quiet time in yoga here.
Pick a style that suits how you feel at that moment
Following on from learning to listen to your body, you start to become more aware of what you really need, to gather your strength and to find your centre. At these times I would turn to a Yin yoga practice. At other times, we might have a lot of pent-up energy, in which case I might turn to a stronger practice, like Vinyasa.
Predictability and familiarity
Some yoga styles will follow the same or similar sequence each week, for example Ashtanga or Bikram. Others might follow a similar pattern each week, like a Hatha class starting with a few rounds of Sun Salutations. Getting a regular practice – going to the same class each week – can also help to provide additional predictability and familiarity. When the world feels uncertain and like it is constantly changing, the knowledge that your yoga class is constant can be really helpful and the familiarity helps to bring a sense of calm.
Exercise changes your hormones
Scientists have shown that exercising, like in a yoga practice, can regulate and even reduce the amount of cortisol and adrenaline in your blood – these hormones are produced at times of stress. This applies to your yoga practice, whether it is a stronger Vinyasa flow class, Kundalini, Hatha or a restorative yoga class. (Read more about restorative yoga and how to use the breath here).
Exercise is also known to stimulate the production of endorphins and dopamine, those natural chemicals in the brain that help to relieve stress (and deal with pain) and elevate our mood. This means you might leave your yoga class or practice feeling a lot better than when you started!
Yoga retreats at La Crisalida Retreats, Spain
We love yoga here at La Crisalida Retreats and like to offer a range of different styles each week, so that you can practice all that I have written about in this article. You can choose to attend all the classes, which include from Hatha, Yin, Restorative, Hatha flow, Kundalini and Anusara. Read more about yoga retreats at La Crisalida, Spain here.
Yoga is such a fabulous activity to include in our weekly (or daily) life, as it can provide such a lot of support during times of challenge. I know I personally benefit from this practice so much and I hope you can too.
About the author
- Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).