To an outsider, yoga can look like a weird mix of downward facing dog, girls in booty shorts and veganism. However, even if you aren't a sweaty yoga die hard (and don't ever want to be) there is still a meaningful place for you within the discipline. It's an honest kind of place that asks you to examine your emotional well-being with the help of an experienced guide. If Power Flow classes have never spoken to you, maybe a workshop titled Finding Your Center: Yoga for Anxiety and Stress will.
Renowned yoga teacher, integrative yoga therapist and clinical psychologist Bo Forbes has this to say: "Chronic stress, multitasking, the pressure to have it all, and a value system that emphasizes achievement over self-care make emotional imbalance — not balance — more common in modern human experience."
As someone who's often felt that they don't quite fit in at a yoga studio for one reason or another (i.e., my athletic pursuits have rendered me unable to touch my toes), a workshop with a focus on stress management was much more my speed — albeit a difficult one to gear down into. (I am so accustomed to constantly refreshing my phone's email that, pre-workshop, the instructor kindly asked that I leave my phone outside as to truly get that crap out of sight, out of mind.)
The instructor, Ryan McGinnis MSW, RYT, taught our small group of six that we are so accustomed to living in a constant state of "fight, flight or freeze" that our central nervous system is forced to stay in a continued state of arousal, resulting in a greater likelihood of mental, emotional and physical illness.
"One of the principles of yoga is to practice nonattachment," she explains. "One of our goals is to become aware of breath and to learn how to observe how it comes and goes.
"It's the same thing mentally. Emotions fluctuate so much, and with pure observation and nonjudgement, you begin to see that they don't define you — they come and go like anything else. When we accept that our feelings don't define us, that's where we find the freedom and the release from the hold that they have."
To teach us how to begin dismantling the tension our bodies have built in response to those pesky, stressed-out emotions, McGinnis lead the workshop through two basic breathing practices (nadi shodhana and deep breathing) followed by a solid hour in gentle restorative poses.
Restorative yoga differs from an "active" yoga class in that it's less about muscles enganging in postures and more about releasing those muscles from the bone, which allows the body to organically open up and let go of tension. Mentally, restorative yoga helps cultivate a habit of soft awareness, attention and relaxation, while cultivating patience and comfort in the present moment.
In accordance with yoga therapists around the world, McGinnis promises that a regular and consistent yoga practice "will help to prevent the mind and body from shifting so dramatically into danger mode and allow us to be more in tune with our emotions — which will help us reduce our physical reactions to them."
The final goal is to "allow the body to resume full diaphragmatic breath, which will sooth the vagus nerve, running from brain to major organs. The organs can then resume normal, full function. Then, our minds and bodies will relax and restore."
Phew. Sound like a mouthful? It's really not. Using yoga to combat stress and anxiety basically sets off a chain reaction of relaxation, which, sadly, takes a lot of practice at this day in age.
Start by signing up for something that's good for you phsycailly and emotionally. Then, leave your phone outside, follow directions and simply try to surrender yourself to healthy unadulterated few moments of self-care.