Last month in my blog we looked at stress, that ubiquitous and overwhelming feeling that can hit us from all angles. You can read that article here. This month we’re going to delve a little deeper into what many believe are some of the most profound tools in managing and even reversing the effects of stress in our minds and bodies; so that we are able to show up and live our lives fully: the art of meditation and yoga.
As I approach forty years on this planet, I can honestly say that I am far healthier and more vibrant than I ever was in my twenties or even early thirties. When I was younger I lived a lot more intensely, I exercised and ate ‘okay’ but also drank, smoked, and abused my body in many other ways.
Gradually over the past 15 years my daily practices of yoga and meditation became non-negotiable. Concurrently, behaviour and habits that weren’t ‘good’ for me have dissipated and some, like drinking alcohol, are no longer part of my life at all. My body is strong and flexible and most importantly, I manage stress in a way that enhances my life.
So what it is about these ancient practices that are such effective tools in the modern world?
Let’s start with yoga.
Unlike other forms of exercise or movement, yoga is in fact a philosophy and style of living. Thousands of years old, the physical practice has become the focal point of the western world due to our obsession with what we look like, however yoga is much deeper than this superficial attachment to the exterior. The word ‘yoga’ literally means to ‘yoke’ or to ‘join’ and the practice of ‘yoga’ is to connect the body, the mind and the spirit, so that we can live with more balance, and harmony.
On the mat we mindfully move our bodies and in doing so, of course we see and feel the physical benefits. The human body is a miraculous piece of machinery, it is designed to move, to jump and crawl, to flow and be free. The poses have untold benefits for our bones, joints, circulation, blood-pressure, they keep us young and strong and agile. However, it’s awareness to how we’re breathing that possibly is the most beneficial part of the practice.
We breathe like we live life and for most of us this means short, hurried breaths, starving ourselves of precious, energising oxygen. In yoga, we slow down our breathing and learn to take deep, nourishing breaths. We become anchored in the present as our breathing is happening in the present. We use breath control as a gateway inward, joining body and mind. It helps us to focus, we withdraw the senses and the physical movement becomes a moving meditation. Learning to breathe properly has a lasting effect on the nervous system and helps deactivate our flight or fight response and as we release stress this way, we also see more clearly our habits and tendencies as a human being. We notice our frustrations, our competitive nature perhaps, our constant comparisons to others or maybe our tendency to give up or take it easy. We notice but we also begin the practice of non-judgment or non-attachment to these observations.
Off the mat yogis have codes of contact they practice called the ‘Yamas’ and ‘Niyamas’. These are guides on how to treat ourselves and others, encouraging self-regulation, finding contentment and practicing a life of ‘non-harm’ – of ourselves and all other sentient beings.
An integral part of a ‘yogic’ lifestyle is meditation. Once upon a time the physical yoga practice was a means to an end. Yogis made their bodies physically strong and flexible so that they could sit in meditation for hours as they knew the deep and lasting benefits of the practice. Hours of meditation just isn’t possible or even desirable for people these days, so modern meditators have been taught how to incorporate a sustainable and effective practice into their lives.
My meditation practice is the foundation of my daily routine and life. It is my ultimate priority, as I know that it enables me to be the very best version of myself – although this is forever an evolution and work in progress.
There are many different ‘styles’ of meditation and it’s important to find a teacher that resonates with you. Each style might have a different technique but at the end of the day meditation is a personal process of becoming aware; aware of what is happening in the body and mind in the ‘present moment’. Once we are aware we practice the ultimate art of ‘allowing’ and going-with-the-flow. It’s very simple, but in practice often met with incredible resistance as we have become experts at trying to control and change our present moment for most of our lives.
With meditation and yoga, their teachings and application to my life, slowly unhealthy habits have slipped away because at the heart of yoga and meditation is present moment awareness and the art of allowing the moment to be exactly as it is.
When we become aware of how we are feeling in this moment, the more connected we are the easier it is to give our bodies and minds what we need and this is what leads to true health.
Read more about the benefits of meditation here:
There is not one prescription for everyone, and we each need to learn to listen to the most powerful wellness tool we have – our intuition. The human body is far more intelligent than the human-mind and a present, self-connected person who checks in with themselves consistently, will have far more of a chance at keeping on top of their health.
We become unhealthy when we become disconnected from ourselves. When we operate from a place of fight or flight or stress we default into a kind of unconscious survival mode and forget to ‘listen’ to the internal compass that keeps us on a healthy path. We must practice remembering that the answers never lie outside of us, but within us.
If you’re suffering from stress and it’s having a negative impact on your life I would encourage you first of all to slow down and carve out some time for yourself. Making ourselves a priority, is fundamental for our long-term health. If you would like more information or guidance on yoga/meditation studios in your area and what type of yoga/meditation would work for you, feel free to email me here. (insert link to email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Claire Robbie has been teaching yoga and meditation for over 10 years. Studying with some of the world’s leading teachers, Claire combines her own learning with personal experiences from her own non-negotiable practice and teaches from the heart in an accessible and practical way. Believing it to be the foundational to living a happy, content and peaceful life, Claire is passionate about making meditation an integral and ‘normal’ part of our community. She is also the founder of the social movement No Beers? Who Cares! an initiative shifting our drinking culture and attitudes towards alcohol.