In my yoga relaxation class the past couple of weeks my students have commented on their experience of how the body and mind are connected.
For example, when your mind is feeling anxious and stressed, your body reflects that with tension which, over time, can affect mobility.
It’s not always easy to notice this as we go through life. But with presence and mindfulness we can begin to notice, learn about and understand this connection. And ultimately take conscious steps and practices to effect change.
How do you feel?
So, think about your own experience.
If you’re feeling physically unwell how does this affect your thoughts and emotions? For example, it can be difficult to feel happy and upbeat if you’re under the weather with a cold or flu.
If you feel angry or upset how does this affect your body? For example, if you flare up in a temper the sympathetic nervous system is activated sending stress hormones around your body. Your muscles tense up and your mind closes down as you focus purely on the anger.
And the two responses can feed off the other into a negative spiral: you feel emotionally anxious and stressed which leads you to hold tension in your body, and because you’re feeling physically tense you find it difficult to relax and your emotions and thoughts get stuck in anxiety mode and you’re constantly on edge.
A different level
So how do you break this cycle?
Well, understanding what’s going on will help in terms of the seeing the relationship between the different levels that, as human beings, we operate on.
These can be seen as:
- Physical – the body
- Energetic – sensations in or near the body such as warmth and tingling
- Emotions, ideas and feelings
- Thoughts and belief systems
- Spiritual – an awareness of a higher self
So, once again, take anger.
We feel it first emotionally as we respond angrily. Then it will work its way into our thoughts as we dwell on what happened and feel aggrieved or hurt, and that will affect us on the physical level as we tense our muscles e.g. clench our fists, tighten our jaw, and tense our shoulders.
Or, if you’re feeling stressed the negative thoughts you experience affect you emotionally making you anxious and again affecting the body as the stress and tension is held in muscles and joints leading to things like migraines or digestive complaints such as IBS.
And when you feel physically ill, for example a splitting head ache, this transfers to your thoughts as you tell yourself you’re ill and so you might feel down and fed-up.
Transform your body and mind
It is important to acknowledge how you feel and not judge it. And sometimes you perhaps just need to go with feeling sad or acknowledge you’re physically feeling unwell at the moment and nurture yourself.
But other times, you may feel you need to transform negative thoughts into positive, or release the tension in your body.
And this is where a yoga practice comes in!
A yogic prescription
All yoga postures and sequences are working on those different levels of experience (whether you realize it or not, but your yoga teacher will know what’s going on!).
For example, here’s a yogic prescription for dealing with some common conditions*:
- Relieve tension and tiredness with Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) which replenishes vitality
- Can’t let go of something that’s happened in the past? Inversions such as Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Supported Inverted Posture (Viparita Karani) or Shoulder Stand (Sarvangasana) can help, as can Cobra (Bhujangasana) as the backbend releases your lumbar spine where fears and insecurities are held.
- Want to alleviate sadness, grief or depression? Camel (Ustrasana) can remove grief from being held in the lungs as you open the chest and rib cage and Extended Lateral Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana) can alleviate depressive states.
- Need to calm down and relax? Bridge (Setubhandasana) can promote calmness, Peace Posture (Padahastasana) soothes an agitated mind as you bend forward and consciously let go, and Child pose (Pindasana) can instil feelings of tranquillity and inner peace as you rest on the ground.
- Release frustration and irritability with Cow Face (Gomukhasana) as you open your heart, and with Rotated Triangle (Parivritta Trikonasana) as you twist your body to wring our tension.
I passionately believe and know that yoga can transform how you feel on all levels of experience.
What’s your experience of the transformational effects of yoga?
* However, unless you’re aware of the subtleties of how yoga postures work you may find it better to go to a class or ask your yoga teacher for advice as its best to practice postures in combinations which have a balancing effect on the body, mind and emotions.
Stella Tomlinson teaches Dru yoga in Southampton, UK. Dru yoga is a flowing and therapeutic style of yoga, characterised by graceful movements, directed breathing, relaxation techniques and working with affirmations and visualisations. Connect with Stella via Facebook and Twitter.