• Rali Ray

Yoga and mental health

How have you coped during the pandemic? How do you continue to cope?

People's mental well-being, in my opinion, has suffered the most over the past year. I, for one, have been through so much ups and downs myself. The low moods for seemingly no reason (forgetting we are in a pandemic since it seems to be 'normal'), that never-ending chitter-chatter in my head about work, life purpose, and really any wild direction my brain decides to go into. And it is exhausting. Why can't I just be full of joy all the time? Well, we all know this is not how it works, because it just doesn’t… but could it?

Yoga and meditation have been my go to coping mechanism for some years now. But over the past year, it has really turned into my main side hustle, and kept me sane, even content, in the midst of everything that's been happening in the world. With the encouragement of a friend, I signed up to an online yoga teacher training on a whim and my, my, what a journey it has been!

So what is yoga? I am sure you imagine someone doing out-worldly shapes with their body, for example like this:

Whilst the yoga community has created the somewhat incomprehensible image of yoga, it actually embodies various practices, including movement through different postures or 'asana' (which is what you see most often), but also meditation and breathing. But what is all the hype about and why is yoga so beneficial?

1. Yoga cultivates awareness. For me this is absolutely key. Whether it is through meditation or asana, a consistent yoga practice offers you the opportunity for exploratory introspection, something we don’t really get to do in our daily lives due to the vast array of distractions and, dare I say, subconsciously, a fear of what we might find if we look within. When you are exploring yourself, you become aware, of how your body works, of the chatter in your head, of the fact that you overreacted to something or that you just mindlessly ate a whole chocolate bar. When you are aware you can start observing your actions and reactions with non-judgement and curiosity. This in turn enables you to be less reactive, think about what you can control, change the things you want to change, and accept and let go of the things you can't change or control (including that there is a global pandemic). Life just becomes effortless and flows naturally and you are content with it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly, because in the words of someone much wiser than me, 'this too shall pass'.

2. Yoga makes you stronger and more flexible. Whilst there are styles of yoga that are focused on passive stretching, the majority of the physical yoga practice is equally as focused on developing strength. The stronger you are, the safer it is to stretch and the more flexible you can become. In any physical practice you can modulate the intensity, and there is such an array of teachers and online (including free) classes that can help you start your journey safely.

3. Yoga makes you happier. There are studies that yoga increases the good hormones in the body like serotonin and reduces the bad hormones like cortisol. So it literally makes you happier! I can absolutely attest that after a class, I usually feel as if I've got happily high, and full of unexplained joy!

'But I am not flexible!' This is the most common misconception people have about the physical yoga practice. And it really is a misconception! Did you know that flexibility is simply muscle memory and nothing else? So unless you try to create that muscle memory, your flexibility will not change. And let's not forget that we all start somewhere. Added bonus is that if you want to, you can avoid a physical practice altogether or mellow type of classes which are super beneficial and soothing. So your yoga practice might look like this:

And you will still gain.

So if you've had enough of Netflix and video calls, why not head to YouTube for some free classes, because yes, yoga does bring more happiness and contentment and can really help your mental wellbeing! After all, what have you got to lose?!

Love and light to you all, thank you for reading!

You can connect with me on Instagram @raliray19 and DM me if you are interested in taking some of my classes or even if you are looking for recommendations.

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