I used to dread the end of summer, not just the back to school stuff and the drape grey uniform and the homework but the grey skies, the long evenings, the drawing in. It brought with it a sense of fear, emptiness and depression. I didn’t know it then but I had all the symptoms of SAD, seasonal affected disorder.
I honestly don’t feel like that now, in fact, most of the time, winter and summer, I am really happy, sometimes annoyingly cheerful.
I put that down to my yoga and meditation practices.
You see when I started yoga I was heartbroken.
I had been dumped, (I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.)
I was dumped and suffering and alone in a different country and still I wanted to do something brilliant and change the world but at the same time I had no idea what to do. I was forging onwards regardless, fake it til you make it. But inside I knew I needed to make a change.
It sometimes takes suffering to motivate us to make a change.
I came to yoga because I needed a change. (Also because the first class was free!)
Guess what, I hated yoga at first! The teacher was so nice, I couldn’t understand half of what she said. At the end of the class I was too embarrassed to tell her I didn’t like it so I went back.
Almost straight away I noticed how my mood improved. I started to have more energy, feel more self motivated and better at managing my time and my energy, happier. At the time I didn’t understand why, but I knew it was working.
Long story short, my weekly yoga class became a priority, an island of peace in my busy week.
At the time I didn’t know why it worked so well but now I do.
Here are some of the ways yoga makes us feel so much better.
- Most people are living with a constant level of stress. Some stress is no harm, it’s even good for us but a constant level of stress in the body means that the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenal are always present, the body (and mind) remains on alert with the sympathetic nervous system switched on. This is the part of us programmed to respond quickly to danger, fight, flight, or freeze. It is essential in certain circumstances but we need to be able to switch off. Yoga allows us to access our parasympathetic nervous system, the one responsible for rest and recharge. It’s essential for growth, proper absorption of nutrients from our food, our bodies ability to heal and our immune system. A good yoga class will take us through movement and breath practices into a state of deep rest (yoga nidra) and help us to access that state again and again. Consistent practice will give us the tools to calm our nervous system periodically so we can rest and heal.
- Like all forms of exercise, the asana practice (poses) help release endorphins so we feel good. Another side effect is that we feel healthier, more at home in our body, fitter and maybe even start to love ourselves a little more.
- Making the decision to etch out a little part of the week for oneself is a revolutionary act for anyone, especially if you are a very social person and empathic. That simple act of doing something for yourself, and taking time to go inwards, it is revolutionary. It changes the relationship we have with ourselves and the way we relate to other people.
- When we practise yoga we learn to calm ourselves, become aware of our thoughts and focus our mind. This stops circular thinking, promotes calm and allows us to problem solve, meditate and listen to our own intuition. This is life changing.
- Yoga works with the body, the breath, the thoughts and emotions all together. It is a holistic and a spiritual practice. Each one of us has our own spark within us, yoga helped me to ignite that spark and so now I have no fear of the winter. I feel a connection to my own inner light.
Here are my top three simple yoga practices here that you can do to feel happier.
These are great for everyone but especially if you tend to suffer from SAD, or anxiety and depression.
- Pranayama is powerful.
Pranayama, or breathing practices, are super powerful.
Focusing on the breath is a great way to connect mind and body, and bring us into the present moment. Prana is a sanskrit word that translates as energy, or life force. By working with the breath or prana we can change the energy in our body.
Try this to start..
Find the natural breath belly breath
Lie down with your knees up and feet on the floor. Make sure you are comfortable. Place your hands on your low belly. Start to focus on your breath, see if you feel a gentle rise and fall of your tummy as you breathe. Do this for 5 to 10 minutes. Don’t worry if you lose focus. Just gently bring your attention back to the breath when you notice it drifting off.
This is a naturally calming breath.
If you are super stressed or anxious you may find it difficult to lie still for 5 minutes watching the breath. In that case, start with 1 minute and count 1, 2, 3 as the breath comes in and 1,2,3, 4 as the breath goes out. You may also benefit from doing this after you have done some physical movement.
- Movement matters
Asana or poses in yoga, strengthen the body and focus the mind. They help us move prana (energy in the body) . The body often reflects the emotion, in that if you feel down, you may slouch and go slow and not have much energy, but we can change how we feel by moving the body.
In a good yoga class we start with limbering and warming sequences to warm us up and get us going.
Cat/ cow sequence
Get on all fours (table top pose)
Now arch your back like a cat as you breath out. (cat pose)
Breath in and reverse the movement, lift your tail bone and your chest so you are shining your heart forwards.
Continue for 6 -10 breathes.
How do you feel now?
Sun salutes are also a great way to connect to your inner sun sunshine energy.
Back bends tend to be heart openers and in a work where we spend so much time slouch over screens they are life changing. Try cobra pose, lie on your tummy, push your hips down into the floor, hands on the floor at chest level and lift your heart forwards and up, smile and breath.
Deep, intention relaxation and rest is so different from collapsing into bed while your mind is still whirling over the days problems, or the kind of rest you get after a half bottle of wine and watching car chases and explosion
Lie on your back on the floor, legs slightly apart, feet resting out to the side, arms by your sides. Close your eyes. Now start to scan your body from the toes up, check in with each part of your body. You can squeeze and release or just notice and let go.
Try to stay awake and notice how you feel. Let go as much tension in the body as you can.
Give yourself 10 minutes.
If you need some help you can follow this yoga relaxation recording I made for my students.
Sad things will happen. You will still have bad days. Even some very bad days. We all lose people and places, we love. The only constant is change. There will always be scary things.
I wish I could tell you that yoga would stop this. It won’t. No matter how well you show up and manifest your dreams, no one is immune to it, bad things, sad things, happen.
But there is also so much possibility and so much love and light in the world and when we are scared we can hide away from that too. So often we have much more choice over how we feel and how we live than we realise.
When I feel sad, or angry now, of course I still feel those things, but it’s different. I still feel grateful and blessed, I can see the beauty in sadness and it doesn’t swallow me. Joyfulness is my dwelling place. Sadness doesn’t frighten me like it did before and my capacity for happiness has increased.
I know my way back to feeling content and joyful.
You are not alone. Even in the darkness
If anything here triggers you and you need to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to reach out, I’ll add some helpful numbers below.
If you are doing ok but want some more yoga or meditation in your life, give me a shout. If I don’t have a class that suits you I can recommend a teacher that does.
And if you are called to support others through yoga or meditation and make the world a more joyful place, then book a call and we can see if joyful yoga teacher training is right for you. https://bit.ly/GalwayYTT
Aware on Freephone 1800 80 48 48
Pieta House Free 24/7 Crisis helpline:1800 247 247 or Text HELP to 51444