“Yoga is paying attention to what it means to be alive” whispered my yoga teacher as we lay in shavansa (the corpse pose) after an intense yoga session.
As I listened to the silence of 20 people in the room in calmness, hearing only my own heartbeat, I understood exactly what he meant. To-date, I have been practicing yoga for over six years and meditating almost everyday for the past two years. When people find out about my morning meditation practice, I’m sure they conjure up an image of me dressed in white robes sitting on a meditation cushion and chanting. Whilst I do occasionally sit in silence, there are no robes and there is no chanting.
There is a such a stigma with both yoga and meditation that only spiritual people or hippies do it. However, there is a reason why organisations are now bringing yoga into workplaces, and why executives and CEO’s are learning more about being mindful to help balance busy lifestyles.
It’s not just about the perfect Instagram pictures of yogi’s demonstrating a pose that you could only master with confidence if you’d had a few too many wines, or about the millions of inspo quotes that take up your social newsfeeds. There is actual scientific research that our minds and bodies benefit whenever we take some time out of the daily grind to go within. Both yoga and meditation are good for you, good for your body and good for your mind. It is more than just hippy shit, let me tell you why…
How it all started…
6 years ago, I was living alone, and befriended a Canadian girl who lived downstairs — we became apartment mates. She was extremely spiritual and a dedicated yogi, while I was yet to wake up to this journey. I had practiced yoga a few times but still didn’t really understand it. Her talk about it all use to confuse me, but her enthusiasm and stories stayed in my mind.
Months later, I lost an old school friend, which propelled me into a state of darkness and depression, questioning my own mortality and wondering how someone could be taken so young. After I was over my initial bout of grief, yoga kept coming popping into my mind as a form of helping me to heal and recover, so I bit the bullet and enrolled in a class. This was the day my yoga practice really began.
The Benefits of Yoga
“Yoga is not about tightening your ass. It’s about getting your head out of it.” — Eric Paskel
For anyone who has ever practiced yoga, they don’t need to be convinced of the benefits. There is a reason why more and more people are flocking to yoga classes each week. It isn’t just a popular phase. Yoga helps us control our internal stress responses and cultivates mind-body awareness. Other benefits of yoga are:
* Boosts immunity
* Strengthens muscles
* Produces a stronger core
* Aligns our posture
* Protects cartilages and joints
* Increases bone health
* Increases blood flow
* Prevents dis-ease of the body
* Reduces blood pressure
* Regulates adrenal glands
* Relaxes the nervous system
* Improves balance
Yoga can also have a very positive effect on mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and overtime can actually change the structure of the brain. Scientists have discovered that the practice of yoga can actually grow parts of the brain which are responsible for self-awareness and reducing stress — This leads to a more calm and relaxed mind. It isn’t just about improving our flexibility, or tightening our butts, it’s what you learn on the way down.
* If you are new to yoga or can’t get to a yoga class in time, I recommend watching and subscribing to Yoga with Adriene on YouTube, whose yoga sessions offer beginner to expert online classes.
My life changed at the start of 2018. It fell apart, and I let it. My relationship ended, I left full-time employment and launched my own business, and I have my meditation practice to thank for it. Whilst stepping out into the entrepreneurial world, meditation has been the one thing that has been able to ground me and when I was in the midst of this personal transformation, it was one of the only things that made sense to me.
I first started getting into this ancient practice at the end of 2016. Like yoga, I had dabbled in it over the years, but found it extremely hard to switch off. I had been flicking through a magazine on my lunch break, when my eyes were drawn to an article about meditation. It had been a pretty taxing year working full-time and freelancing on the side, as well as healing some pretty deep wounds and I was exhausted.
At the end of the article, there was a suggestion about a new meditation app that had just been launched; Insight Timer, with a promise of over 4000 guided meditations (the app now has over 10,000). At that stage I was desperate for some inner peace, so without letting my rational mind take over and tell me all the reasons why I couldn’t meditate, I quickly downloaded the app and began my meditation journey.
The Benefits of Meditation
“You’ve mastered the selfie, now master thyself” — unknown
Meditation allows us to master ourselves and discover who we really are. The practice gives us a chance to take a pause from life and come back to the present moment. Our minds and bodies are so interconnected, that the condition of one of them can really affect the other. When we sit down to meditate, we send a signal to our bodies that its is ok to relax. Studies have shown that this ancient practice can actually change our brains physiology which can slow down the aging process. Other benefits are:
* Reduces stress by quieting our amygdala — the monkey mind
* Improves focus and concentration
* Increases our self-awareness
* Strengthens our immune system
* Improves resilience levels against pain
* Enhances emotional intelligence
* Helps regulate moods
* Produces a feeling of being more grounded
* Promotes mental strength
* Improves our moods and psychological well-being
* Fosters creativity
* Reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke
Meditation has become as much part of my routine as brushing my teeth. When I sit in my meditation, I can open myself up to the energy that connects to my creativity, my passion, my imaginative spirit. It also helps me get into my flow with my writing — though I have been known to get so relaxed I have fallen asleep many times.
Meditation is a such a powerful tool in healing our bodies but it isn’t easy. It takes time, dedication and commitment, but if you keep at it, the benefits are truly life-changing.
Both of these ancient practices help me connect to my why and are the first thing I go to when life gets a little bit hard. It’s those times when I feel unbalanced that I either unroll my mat at home and go deep within, or force myself into the car to my nearest yoga class. The things I have learnt from these practices are priceless. It is within silence where I am able to envision the things I want to bring into my life without any pressure.
If you are looking to quieten your mind, would like to find a little more calmness within the chaos, connect back to your body or just a little curious, adopting one or both of these practices could actually help change your life for the better.
And that’s not just hippy talk.