If your brain is constantly running at 100mph, then yoga is the antidote to your everyday anxieties, writes Alexandra Legouix.
I recently noticed that about 80% of my students coming to my yoga studio are quite open about the fact they are there because they feel they need help with their anxiety… and I can 100% vouch for the fact that yoga will do exactly that.
Until the last few years I was so laid-back people used to say I may as well be horizontal. Don’t get me wrong… I wasn’t lucky enough to have a suffer-free life. In fact – relatively speaking – I have been through quite my fair share of X, Y and Z. However, because I was dealt a few blows from a young age, I had a very tough shell and the ‘little things’ just used to bounce off me.
Now, while I still do have a very positive outlook on the whole, I definitely experience ‘dark days’ – and I now, much more easily, can relate to my clients. Whether it is just a result of getting older, or the social media narcissistic era we live in, or a product of layered (probably unresolved) issues, or just down to the fact that I have an extraordinarily bad knack of saying ‘yes’ to things when I should actually say ‘no’ and therefore burn the candle in every way, at all times. I am not sure… (It is actually, most definitely, all of the above, right?) but whatever it is, I now truly understand how people feel when they say they have had an anxiety or panic attack.
I am no preacher… but I can, hand on heart, say that yoga and meditation calm my nervous system and that I REALLY notice the difference if I haven’t been on the mat for a few weeks. Yoga definitely grounds me and helps me manage my stress. Thoughts, opinions and the unhelpful ‘stuff’ from everyday life gets worked out in my practice and not because I spend the hour thinking about everything. It is because I spend the hour NOT thinking about anything other than trying not to fall out of ‘Tree’, or wobble in ‘Warrior 3’, or I’m too busy focusing on the fact that during ‘Goddess Pose’ I am most definitely no ‘Goddess’ these days. I am thinking about everything other than real life. For me, it is the combination of pranayama (breath control) and the asanas (poses) and the ‘flowing’ nature of my favourite yoga, that truly works for me and that is what – at least modern-day – yoga is.
In most classes, at the start, the teacher will encourage you to ‘leave your worries outside’. It is usually at that stage that I think ‘yeah… right’, and yet come the end of the hour I realise that I did do exactly that.
You are asked to focus and slow your breath and it is this breath control and awareness that is then encouraged and reiterated throughout every single movement done – ideally syncing each movement to your breath. We have known for millennia that when we are stressed or in a panic, we take short, fast breaths, further exacerbating the sense of unease and that taking slower, deeper breaths will calm us.
Scientists have – in more recent years – located the neural pathway in the brain – based in a section of the brain stem called the ‘pons’ – that generates the rhythm of breathing: the ‘pre-Botzinger complex’ and found that it is in-fact tightly linked with a region called the ‘locus coeruleus’ and it is this region that plays a huge role in our stress response, our brains emotion and fear centres.
And guess what? In homage to the yoga technique of Pranayama breathing, the scientists have actually labelled these nerves ‘Pranayama Neurons’!
So, if we know scientifically, that actively manipulating breath can effectively control that area of the brain that triggers arousal or excitement it is a no brainer that yoga is going to be good for your mental state! Twisting and opening the body, whilst focusing on the breath can harmonise the body and the mind.
Certain postures really help to still the mind. And not only that, the ancient yoga philosophy and principles are extremely profound and positive. It encourages you to have more gratitude for yourself and others. To value contentment. To overcome greediness. It encourages you to eat and stay healthy. And finally, and most importantly, it encourages you to keep faith and keep filling up your bucket of hope.
I’ve sold it so well I might have to go and do a class right now!