One of the top pieces of advice for anyone suffering with depression and/or anxiety is to get moving. Exercise can be a powerful antidote to many of the negative thoughts and feelings associated with these conditions, even if providing only temporary relief. That said, while in the throes of a depressive episode or crippling anxiety, even the walk from your bed to the bathroom can seem impossible, so a trip to the gym is often out of the question. In those kinds of states, I can fully convince myself that if I attempted even a light jog, I would have a panic attack and die. Yes, seriously. So best just to stay in bed, right? Thankfully, I got into yoga – specifically Bikram yoga – when I was in a relatively good place. That made it slightly easier to drag myself back to yoga after months of feeling too weak, drained and frankly self-loathing to perform even the simplest of self-care acts. I’m still on my journey back to being a full on yogi (apologies in advance 😂) but yoga is now an important part of my mental health management and I truly feel that it can have the same power for many others struggling with similar challenges, and even those who are not! I especially find that yoga is an incredibly good antidote to anxiety. Of course, when it comes to mental health, our journeys are as personal and individual as the bodies we live in so this is entirely based on my own experience but hopefully sharing this will help someone find solace in yoga, and follow their calling to become one of those super annoying insta yogis #yogaeverydamnday
1. Learning to clear your mind. If you’re anything like me, the phrase ‘clear your mind’ makes you want to scream. What the hell does that even mean?! How can you possibly think about nothing…unless you’re, like, dead or incredibly stupid or something? Bloody mindfulness crap 😒 Enter stage left, yoga. In yoga, you don’t have to clear your mind because that’s simply impossible, right? Instead, you attempt to clear your mind of everything but the postures you’re doing there and then. As one of my old teachers used to say, you need to ‘forget about the boss, the bills, the boyfriend’ and focus only on you and your mat. Sounds pretty hard, huh? And it is. In my first few months of practicing, I’m pretty sure I thought more about all those things during yoga than in my normal day-to-day. But as I got more into yoga and focused on improving, these intrusive thoughts naturally got quieter and quieter. Now, after a few years of on and off practice, I can make it through and hour or hour and a half class being entirely focused on what’s taking place on my mat. Not every time, of course, but when I first started, I never imagined that I would be able to hush the voices enough to leave a class feeling relaxed, accomplished and – dare I say it – happy! Which brings me on to my next point…
2. Beating perfectionism with progress. The main reason I prefer Bikram yoga to any other style is the fact that every class is exactly the same. You perform the same 26 postures in the same order, every time. While this may sounds boring to some, it’s an absolute dream for someone with anxiety. Anxiety likes to tell you that you’re not good enough. In your first few months of practicing, that voice in your head runs wild. I spent most of my time comparing myself to others in the class – “how is that person’s leg all the way up there?!” “hmm, I don’t look like that, I must be doing it wrong” “I’m way too inflexible for this” “oh gosh, I bet everyone is laughing at how bad I am” “does that muscle hurt because it’s supposed to or because I’ve just caused irreperable damage?” “my sports bra and leggings really clash”… But eventually, I learned to look at myself and only myself in the mirror. I started going to the front of the class so there was nobody between my reflection and I to distract me. And, in time, the only comparing I was doing was between my current self and my past self. Because of the repetitive nature of Bikram, it becomes easy to notice your progress – a surefire way to quieten the perfectionist inside. Some days, you will have a bad practice – your body is different every time you step onto the mat – but knowing that you’ve done better before means you can 100% do better again. And the great thing about being your own competition is that if you’ve had a bad sesh, you can’t wait to get back on the mat and kick Yester-You’s ass 😏
3. Breathe & stop. Pranayama is the control of breath, and is a core component of a good yoga practice. There are different types of pranayama but in most yoga classes, it simply involves slow, controlled, deep breaths which flow with your postures. Anyone with anxiety knows that breathing is a powerful tool but we tend only to use it when we’re already feeling overwhelmed. Imagine how much good an hour or so focusing on your breath a few times a week could do if even just a few minutes can bring you back from the brink of a panic attack? Just sitting in a room for an hour breathing would be pretty darn boring, and would provide the perfect conditions for those pesky intrusive thoughts to have a fiesta in your mind. Yoga allows you to spend that time on your breath while your mind is occupied trying to get your head to touch your knees!
So, whether you’re trying anything and everything to make your anxiety more manageable or simply looking to lead a calmer life, hopefully I’ve convinced you to give yoga a chance. Top tip: if you’re really going to try it, buy one of those intro passes where you can attend unlimited classes over a month, and go to at least 3. I absolutely hated my first couple of classes but I’m so pleased I stuck at it!
Have you noticed any other benefits from practicing yoga? Share them with us in the comments 👏