Yoga for Mental Health and Mindful Living
I was feeling totally overwhelmed and stressed out. We were having a very challenging time at work, and my personal life was in meltdown. The pressure on me was too much to bear, and I thought I would never cope. I felt my flight or fight response kicking in, and I started mentally composing my resignation letter, ready to write it, hand it in, and walk out, never to return.
My manager saw the agitated state I was getting into. She knew how much I was struggling mentally, and was wonderfully supportive. She asked me if I had my yoga mat, and suggested I took a short yoga break. Gratefully I accepted her suggestion, and within half an hour of stretching, breathing, relaxing and being in my body, I felt like a new person. I returned to the office renewed, with none of the desire to walk out left. My troubles were far from over, but Yoga was to prove to be a fantastic tool for me to heal and recover.
Yoga is often seen as a physical activity, one that promotes flexibility, and which requires a certain level of fitness and agility to even begin. There is so much more to it. Yoga does promote flexibility, but you can gain so much more from Yoga, and it really is for everyone. Yoga can provide an excellent addition to the tool box of mindfulness and stress control practices you learn at Valleys Steps. Yoga IS mindfulness in action. Through Yoga you learn to become aware of your body, your emotions and your thoughts, and develop tools to manage it. Yoga is a mind/body practice that aims to bring mind and body into harmony and balance.
Through Yoga practice, you use the mind to control the body, and use the body to ease the mind. Yoga is a powerful vehicle for processing and releasing stress and tension, as well as relieving physical problems and imbalances. When your mind is tense and stressed, this tends to come out in the body. Tense shoulders, headaches, back ache, tired muscles, low energy, poor sleep, digestive problems and so much more have stress at their root.
Yoga postures create tension in certain parts of the body, but then you relax and let go of that tension, and your whole being begins to relax. A key part of a good Yoga practice is learning to control your breath. When you consciously control your breath, you can take control of your emotions, and your response to events that happen to you. Yoga practices, both the postures and the breath practices, give you tools to recognise and respond to your emotions, to choose how you respond rather than simply reacting from your emotions, and doing or saying something you later regret.
At the end of a good Yoga session, you will be invited to lie down and relax. This is your time to allow your body and mind to rest deeply. You will be surprised how comfortable it feels to lie on a thin yoga mat on the floor after a good yoga practice. Your teacher will talk you through relaxing your body and mind, and you may find, as many do, that you drift off to sleep, or somewhere just on the edge of sleep where you feel utterly relaxed and at peace.
Many people report that they sleep their best sleep of the week after a Yoga class. My students tell me that Yoga improves their physical health, mental health, confidence, self-esteem and so much more. I have overcome my own significant mental health problems very powerfully through Yoga, and am passionate about the benefits it offers for mental health and wellbeing.
Esther Nagle is a yoga teacher, workplace wellbeing consultant, speaker and writer. She has overcome stress, depression and addiction through Yoga, and is passionate about the benefits Yoga has to offer to improve mental health. Esther teaches Yoga in the Rhondda and offers consultancy for Workplace Wellbeing as Lotus Strength Consulting. Esther has written a book about her journey to recovery from addiction through Yoga, and loves to share her story to help and inspire others
By Esther Nagle
Workplace Wellbeing Consultant