Yoga and mental health is a buzzing mammoth of a topic that Google has already answered with all the statistics, facts and proof one needs. All I can offer is what I have seen and witnessed from my own personal experience and as a yoga teacher.
Mental health would have a different story if we could see it because in our western mindset we need to see something to believe it. Some things can’t be seen and measured, only felt. We have a tendency to devalue what can’t be proven and therefore, we conclude, that this isn’t important. Or worst of all, not even real.
We encounter challenges within us and then expect to find all the answers outside of us. It is a familiar, repetitive pattern pervading all aspects of our world. For me, when I feel out of control, out of touch with myself, I turn to everyone else besides myself. When I lose trust, self-confidence and have no answers I panic and turn to anyone who does. Usually, these people have a lot of letters after their names, and the amount of time I have to wait to see them is no correlation to how much time they give me. Their answers come in the shape of paper and pills. I have deep gratitude for when their medicine kept me breathing, sleeping and eating. It kept me alive but it never healed me.
Yoga was my medicine. It gave me the insight to keep breathing. How we feel affects how we breathe. An anxiety attack breathes in short shallow breaths in the chest. Relaxation breathing is long and deep in the belly, like when we sleep. Concentration holds it’s breath. Depression isn’t even aware that it is breathing at all.
So if how we feel changes how we breathe, then how we breathe can change how we feel. This is the wisdom of pranayama, the fourth limb of yoga. If you don’t think breathing is important try stop doing it for awhile and see how you get on. Breathing is a skill. By mastering the breath we can guide our emotions instead of letting our emotions overwhelm us. Yoga taught me that the quality of my breath is intrinsic to the quality of my life. No one else can breathe for us, or feel how we feel and this is why we always be, our own most powerful healer.
I volunteered at a maximum security prison to teach yoga. What I remember the most from my time teaching there, isn’t the actual yoga postures. It was how their faces would physically change during relaxation. Sometimes I couldn’t even work out who was who. Perhaps, in that transformative, restorative place, they didn’t know who they were either. There is healing in that. In that moment they were not prisoners. Yoga created the space they needed to remember who they truly are, before they were told who they had to be. They weren’t forgetting who they were but reconnecting with who they could be. That is how yoga healed me and continues to heal me.
Every yoga class for me is a healing circle. My intention is that everyone who comes to yoga leaves feeling better than how they did when they arrived. Yoga is bigger than what happens on the mat. My prescription is to try a yoga class for a few weeks. Find the evidence in your own body. Then stop doing yoga. Find the proof in your own well being. And keep breathing.
Today’s post comes from a very special friend of mine, someone I grew up with and have watched grow into an amazing mother of three gorgeous young ladies. Particularly as a first-time mum, the advice can come thick and fast, but it is nice to hear that there are those out there ready to support you make your own choices and carve your own path.
A Word On Taking & Giving Advice in Pregnancy: Julia – 34, mother of three daughters
It’s no secret that motherhood will change you. The body will stretch and grow in directions, that previously, you never dreamed possible. Your taste may change. Parts of you start to swell and shift and sway. Yet, it is the unseen world within that is rarely listened too, or spoken of. So much time of pregnancy is experienced in the head; an evergrowing mental checklist of what should, or shouldn’t be done. The monumental life decisions made on behalf of a life beginning; cloth or disposable nappies? Bottle or breast? Natural versus c-section? The moments that make life meaningful, are the ones when you get out of your head and into your heart. The parts of pregnancy that are significant are when you are aware that now two hearts beat within you.
On the eve before my first child was born, I sat in our living room and proceeded to tell my Mother-in-law all my plans. Once the baby was born I would write a book. Take up knitting. Bake something edible. I conjured up a vision of myself as a Mother and vowed I would will her into being. With retrospective insight, my Mother-in-law gave me the best advice I have ever received. With her head tilted knowingly to one side she listened, smiling, and occasionally nodded. And said absolutely nothing. Maybe she knew me well enough to know I wouldn’t listen anyway. Or that I wouldn’t believe her. Perhaps, at the time, I thought I knew better. Advice, even with the best intentions, creates expectations that can deprive you of your experience as a mother.
When my eldest was born she had a small strawberry birth mark visible on the left side of her forehead. Concerned, the nurse advised me that it would disappear. Doctors said it could be removed cosmetically. I turned to google and gorged on information till distraction then promptly forgot. Eight years later it is still there. Early on I told my daughter that the mark was where I kissed her when she was born. Now, as I brush her hair for school, she makes sure everyone can see it.
Advice always has a time, place and intention but it should never override your intuition as a mother or the spirit of your child. An avid reader, I recall my devastation of a work colleague saying I will never have time to read again once my baby was born. My delight when I discovered that a breastfeeding baby makes the perfect book holder. Be wary of those quick at giving advices. Remember advice reveals more about their experience than yours. Me included.
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