The coronavirus outbreak has taken the world into uncharted territory. As a result, many of us are having to adapt to new ways of living, whether it’s remote working, homeschooling, or caring for loved ones. This undoubtedly has an impact on our physical and mental wellbeing, but how can we continue to look after ourselves whilst socially distancing and with such pressures added to our daily life? One very accessible and effective option is to practice yoga.
I’m KT, a yoga teacher based in Sevenoaks and, like many, I reluctantly had to stop teaching classes in person due to the lock-down. Fortunately, modern technology has allowed me to keep Oaks Yoga up and running. I now deliver group classes and one to one’s online in the comfort of people’s homes.
I first experienced the healing powers of yoga after being diagnosed with a chronic illness. I suffered for a long time with debilitating pain and was unable to do my job as a television producer. Desperate to get my life back, I turned to yoga and an anti-inflammatory diet. Gradually, my health improved, and whilst the disease is incurable, I now lead a normal life. My transformation amazed medical professionals and inspired me to study and qualify as a yoga teacher.
For years, people have turned to yoga for physical fitness and stress relief, but there are other health benefits too, many of which are backed by scientific evidence. My journey has given me first-hand experience of the power of yoga and clients have also discovered many benefits, which include:
Breathing is the first thing we do when we’re born and every system in our body relies on it. Yet many of us don’t breathe properly and only use a third of our lung capacity! Did you know, your lungs expand all the way to just below your collarbone? By breathing slowly, gently and deeply we become calmer and more relaxed. This helps reduce tension, anxiety, depression and improves concentration and sleep.
I start each class with a breathing exercise, known as pranayama which allow the body and mind to connect with the breath. Pranayama offer similar moments of presence and focus as meditation, but are often easier to follow for those with a wandering mind.
Relaxation of the nervous system
Our breath is key to how we modulate our nervous system, which comprises two parts. The sympathetic nervous system, our fight-flight response which is elevated when we’re stressed and the parasympathetic system, the rest and digest response. When you relax and connect with your breath there’s a shift in the balance of your nervous system from fight-flight to rest and digest. The body is not designed for us to be in the fight-flight system for long periods as it causes inflammation and diverts energy away from our digestive and immune systems. As we transition to the rest and digest system the heart rate lowers, blood pressure decreases and blood flows to our pelvic organs. Scientific research has shown that controlling our nervous system can help in the treatment of chronic illnesses.
Often people say they can’t do yoga because they’re not flexible enough, but that’s exactly why they should come to the mat. In their first class, a beginner may not be able to touch their toes, which is fine, but it will gradually improve each time they practice. Props (such as blocks) are used in class to help bring a yogi closer to the floor and their toes! As they progress, people often notice that aches and pains start to disappear. This is no coincidence. Tight hips and hamstrings, for example, can strain other parts of the body such as the knees or the spine which can lead to back pain. Inflexibility in muscles and ligaments can also cause poor posture and increase pressure on the body. By practicing yoga, these symptoms can be alleviated.
One of my clients, Ian Griffin, explains “I’ve felt the benefits with my flexibility, have a greater range of movement and move more freely without the usual aches and pains! Yoga has also helped in other sports too such as cycling and at the gym.”
Strengthening the body, improving stability and balance
When it comes to the physical practice, yoga postures tone and strengthen the body. Poses can be modified for beginners and for those with injuries, whilst still providing benefit. There are different groups of postures, each bringing their own benefits to the body and mind, for examples:
• Forward bends calm the nervous system. They help decrease blood pressure and the heart rate as well as improve circulation and digestion.
• Backbends lift low mood and depression. They also strengthen muscles, increase space and flexibility in the spine and help release emotions.
• Twists create freedom, vitality and balance within the nervous system. They’re great for detoxing and improving the digestive system. In these poses, the pelvic and abdominal organs are often compressed and released, offering relief of bowel disorders such as IBS.
Regular practice also improves our body awareness and this can help with balancing postures. With increased awareness, you begin to notice where you might be holding tension, perhaps in the shoulders, hips or face. Tuning into how you’re feeling allows you to identify and release tension. The ability to feel and strengthen the body as well as the mind can also help prevent falls in elderly people.
We often overlook the need to consciously take action to improve our mental and physical wellbeing. Caring for ourselves not only makes us calmer but gives us more energy and promotes a sense of happiness. Yoga gives you the tools to care for yourself and gives you hope. This hope can be healing in so many ways.
Client, Katie Salt explains how “Yoga is more than just exercise, it has helped me manage stress, anxiety and has taught me self-love. I’m a much happier, calmer, more confident person. I’m also fitter, more flexible and stronger. I suffered from lower back pain and yoga has made it so much better”.
Keen to learn more and/or wish to try an online class?
I hope that during these challenging times, yoga can make its way into more and more people’s homes. All you need is to dedicate a little time, a quiet space and an open mind.
Katie Brown is a yoga teacher and owner of Oaks Yoga which is based in Sevenoaks. She offers individual, group and corporate classes, all of which aim to energise as well as help relax and unwind from daily pressures. For more information, visit www.oaksyoga.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Online classes are FREE for all NHS workers.