There’s a lot of hype around Yoga at the moment but there’s more to it than being just a trend – it’s been around for thousands of years and there are many, many benefits to practicing yoga regularly.
There’s so much to explain but let’s start with the body’s nervous system, in particular by looking at stress and the impact that it has on the body.
Our response to stress is controlled by the Autonomic Nervous System which has two elements. The fight flight mode (sympathetic system), that prepares our body to react to stress and the rest and digest system (parasympathetic). During chronic stress the body releases hormonal chemicals that increase our heart rate and blood pressure ensuring we act quickly in stressful situations. The body is not designed for us to be in this sympathetic state for long periods as it can cause inflammation and divert energy away from our digestive and immune system. This leaves us vulnerable to a host of health problems. The more we de-stress and engage our rest and digest system the better our nervous system operates and the more likely we are to feel good physically and emotionally.
By focusing on our breathing and using mindfulness we can switch from our fight/flight mode to the calmer nervous system. As we start moving into poses we use an Ujjayi breath which compliments the physical movement. This diaphragmatic breath (deep breathing) helps to increase oxygen in the blood, to build internal body heat and most importantly relax the nervous system allowing the body to go deeper into yoga poses and increasing flexibility. In return the nervous system responds well to movement, for example back bends, which stimulate and release held emotions or introverted forward bends which calm the nervous system. By practising meditation and yoga, we can relieve symptoms such as back pain, tight hips and poor core stability and improve our mental health.
Classes start with a short breathing exercise called pranayama, focusing on slowing down and deepening the breath. People often struggle with pranayama and meditation – their minds wander and become distracted with events or “to do lists”.
In class, there are techniques I use to help keep your mind focused, you just need to bring an open mind to the mat and have a little curiosity.