January 2020; a time when ‘corona’ was a word commonly associated with a Mexican lager brand and the idea of a nationwide ‘lockdown’ was unthinkable. Also a time when I was completing my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training in Goa, India. As much as this was inspiring, transformational and challenging (both physically and mentally), I am not here to gloat about the winter sun, preach about the importance of yoga in my life or inspire you to roll out your mat (although that would be a bonus). I want to discuss all the tools I learnt BEYOND the physical practice of yoga itself, and invite you to shift your perspective of ‘but I’m not flexible’ and hear a little about how yogic practice might actually benefit your daily life.
I flirted with the idea of yoga for a few years, but committing to daily practice started in a search to suppress my anxious thoughts and connect body and mind. Initially, I viewed yoga as exercise, but I have since learnt the incredible depth these teachings have to offer and I want to share it with you.
Vanda Scaravelli describes yoga as ‘an effortless dance with breath and gravity’… and I get it… being told downward facing dog is your ‘resting pose’ and binding your body round in eagle as your teacher takes FOREVER to count down from 5 might not always feel ‘effortless’. But, the noticeable changes I started feeling in my body and mind after practice could not be ignored. I realise that everyone is different and that this form of movement might not be for you, but I believe that as human beings we need to reconnect to this state of ‘being’. For this, yogic teachings and practices can help massively.
Thankfully, we are living in a world where understanding our mental health is becoming equally as important as maintaining physical health and this concept has always been prevalent in yogic philosophy.
For some, yoga is their new kick-ass leggings and a catch up with friends whilst sipping on turmeric lattes. For others, it is an essential part of a daily routine which provides a bedrock for both physical and mental health. By definition, ‘yoga’ means ‘union’ of the mind, body and soul and although I am not here to take you through the teacher training syllabus, I feel it necessary to supply some wider context.
I was trained and now teach in Ashtanga (translated as ‘eight limb’) and Vinyasa (translated as ‘to place in a special way’). Over 2,500 years ago, an ancient Indian sage called Patanjali wrote The Yoga Sutras on the theory and practice of yoga. Within these are the ‘eight limbs of yoga’ offering observances and practices to settle the mind into silence and establish our own essential state of consciousness. The physical aspect of yoga, which is commonly practiced in the West, is only one eighth of this path, implying there’s more than just stretching to reach a calm bliss.
I have done my best to create six ways in which traditional yogic practices can be incorporated into your daily life. From my teachers, to me, to you. Enjoy.
1- The Act of Self-Love
The first limb of yoga, Yamas, focuses on our behaviour and how we conduct ourselves in everyday life. ‘Ahimsa’ is a principle of non-violence which applies to all living beings INCLUDING yourself. So take your gaze inwards, be kinder and less critical of yourself and your thoughts. Self-love is not selfish, it is bold and brave. Run a bubble bath, cook yourself a nourishing meal, go to bed early to read. However this manifests for you, I encourage you today to do one self-loving act.
2- Mindful Walking
Walking, something most of us can do. It requires little to no thinking, right? Allow me to shift your perspective and turn walking into an act of mindfulness. The second limb, Niyamas, are five ethical principles focussing on how we live in our bodies incorporating observances and self-disciplines. For self-discipline, plan an occasion to try your first mindful walk, and stick to it.
Next observance – When you walk, observe how your body feels through the connection of your feet to the earth. Use your senses to tap in to the present, look up and around, what can you smell, what can you taste, what can you hear? Congratulations! You are mindfully walking. Headspace has great guided mindful walks and runs that I highly recommend.
Marilyn Monroe once wrote ‘to think in ink’, which beautifully captures the purpose of journaling. All you need is a pen and paper, but if you want to make it aesthetically pleasing, Papier do beautiful personalised journals. If you need some writing guidance, maybe start by outlining your day. I am a LOVER of lists and I definitely encourage them in journalling. Here’s a couple of ideas:
- 5 things you are grateful for
- 5 aspirations and how you are going to achieve them
- Set yourself a morning mantra or positive affirmation for the day ahead.
There are also fab Instagram accounts such as @journaling.prompts which can give you some inspiration.
4- Pranayama – The Fourth Limb
In yoga, ‘prana’ is the breath which is considered as a life-giving force. I mean, what would we be without the breath? Daily pranayama can improve blood circulation, concentration, relieving stress, anxiety and depression. If that isn’t a reason to give it a go, I don’t know what is. Here are a few of my favourites (examples are linked):
Disclaimer: For maximum effect – try these in the morning before using phone, drinking your coffee or having sex. (Not to put you off any of these!)
- Nadi Shodhana – Beneficial for anxiety and relaxation.
- Kapalabhati – Increase in blood circulation, digestion, and energy.
- Bhramari Pranayama – Helpful with stress, headaches, anger and insomnia.
One of the main purposes of the physical practice of yoga is to help hold meditative postures for longer. For this example, I am going to mention Joe Wicks (rogue, I know). Familiar to us all as a fitness coach, he has recently taken to meditation to test the effects on his mental health. Following his progress on social media has reaffirmed my belief that meditation is a unique journey and committing to regular practice will help you discover what works for you. Try it yourself – there are endless guided meditations on Headspace, Youtube and Spotify. If you have never quite clicked with the conventional ways, maybe try a GABA Podcast. I would also HIGHLY recommend the book ‘Mind Calm: The Modern-Day Meditation Technique that Gives You ‘Peace With Mind’ by Sandy C. Newbigging.
In my opinion, I would recommend the physical practice alongside these other examples. Greater strength, flexibility and circulation are all pretty convincing reasons to give it a go. If that isn’t enough, name another form of exercise which you finish by lying on the floor, relaxing and covering yourself with a blanket… I’ll wait.
Since being home, I have been teaching free yoga for all levels on my instagram @hannahs_yoga, please feel free to follow me and join in when you can.
By Hannah Simmonds