The practice of Yoga is believed to have started with the very dawn of civilisation. The science of yoga has its origin thousands of years ago, long before the first religions or belief systems were born. The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’ meaning ‘to unite’. You do this by concentrating your awareness on your physical body through breathing and postures.
Yoga is not a religion. You don’t need to believe in a God, or chant mantras. It is a science that aims to improve health in the body, peace in the mind, joy in the heart and liberation of the soul. It’s not a competition, it does not matter which poses you can or can’t do, what matters is that you are connecting to yourself. Throughout yoga you tend to begin with a breathing sequence to remove external distractions. We then complete a series of postures or Asanas whilst again focusing on uniting the body and mind, thus it should not be painful but just challenging. Finally you finish with another breathing technique and maybe meditation.
If technique is good there is no right or wrong way. Throughout the class you are try to not be a worrier, try to avoid thinking things such as ‘am I doing it right?’ ‘Do I look okay?’ ‘Is this supposed to feel this way?’, ‘I should be doing washing’ instead, just listen to your body and be aware of your breath. Allow it to tell you what feels right and nice and your mind is just along for the ride. If any of these thoughts do arise, try to imagine breathing out any negative, unhelpful and possibly challenging thoughts. Instead think about the breath, think about how your body feels in the pose and listen to it.
Yoga in the treatment of stress
- Yoga lowers physical and psychological tension and promotes relaxation. In times of high stress and anxiety, our bodies tend to build up tension.
- Yoga helps us regulate the breath. Our breath is connected to our nervous system. Changing our short chest breaths to deep abdominal breaths can soothe the nervous system. This can also be used in stressful situations outside of yoga to bring about calm.
- Yoga increases bodily awareness. We can also learn greater awareness of our bodies that can further lower our physical tension and stress away from the mat. We often carry unnecessary tension in our bodies, and through the practice of yoga we can get better at recognizing tension and letting go of it.
- Yoga interrupts worry cycles. All of us have had the experience of getting stuck in our heads, overthinking and worries can be stressful, anxiety provoking and exhausting. When we step on the yoga mat, we have an opportunity to step out of the thinking mode and practice the art of letting go.
- Doing yoga demonstrates self-compassion. When we’re stressed and busy, it’s easy to stop doing things that are good for us, like exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating well. When we take time to do something kind for ourselves like yoga, we treat ourselves as someone who’s worth taking care of.
- Yoga fosters self-acceptance. As challenging as yoga can be, the practice is grounded in an acceptance of where we are. To accept our bodies, abilities, and limits just as they are, right now. We can progress but that comes with time.
- Yoga trains us to accept discomfort. We often move away from discomfort, and at times this retreat can lead us away from what we value. This doesn’t mean working through pain, but that challenge is expected to increase tolerance.
Beginners Morning Sequence
When your alarm goes off give yourself 5-10 minutes to do what you need to do to feel somewhat awake. Have a glass of water and sit on the floor. You will begin breathing with one hand on your chest and the other hand on your tummy. For 10 deep breaths you will try to change your breathing from the chest into the deep abdomen. Encourage the tummy to move out and we exhale pushing against your hand, and draw back in as you inhale.
Seated cat cow: Come to a comfortable cross legged or seated position; you may need to sit on a pillow to enable you to cross your legs. Close your eyes, and ground through your sitting bones. Place your hands on your knees. Deeply inhale to lean forward, rolling your shoulders back and bringing your heart forward. Then exhale to softly press your chin into your throat and roll your spine into gentle flexion, engaging your abdominal muscles. Drink in through an open heart on the inhalation, and pour out by engaging muscular energy as you exhale.
Seated half moon: Open your eyes and place your right fingertips beside your right hip. Walk the fingers out, pressing the right shoulder blade into your back by externally rotating the shoulder. Inhale to extend your left arm up and exhale to reach it to the right, rotating your left shoulder back and expanding your left rib cage. Inhale, shift your gaze skyward; exhale, rotate your head and gaze at the ground. Exhale to release and switch sides, including the cross of your legs.
Seated arm opening and closing: Keeping your eyes open raise your arms so they are straight and in line with your shoulders T shape. Relax your shoulders down your back and reach out through your fingertips. Open up the chest by reaching behind you with your arms and lifting the chest whilst dropping the head back. Stay for 1 breath, on return bring your hands straight out in front of your face, lock your hands together and push them as far away as possible. Tuck the chin into the chest and suck your tummy in. Stay for 1 breaths and repeat both.
Seated forward fold: Begin in a seated position with legs stretched out straight in front of you and spine tall and straight. Inhale as you reach straight up overhead to lengthen your spine. As you exhale, reach your middle and index fingers to grab your big toes and begin to bring your body over the top of your legs. Lower until you feel a gentle stretch in your hamstrings and low back and hold. Breathe fully as you continue to lengthen your spine.
Seated head to knee: Extend the right leg straight out in front of you, place the bottom of the left foot against the right thigh. Pull the right leg in to square the hips to the front. Inhale the arms up and reach out of the waist lengthening the spine. Keep the length as you exhale forward, bending the right knee enough to interlace the fingers around the foot and to place the head against the knee. Work the posture by pressing the head down into the knee, sliding the right heel away from you, lengthening the right leg. Keep the head pressed to the knee while straightening the leg as much as you can. For a deeper stretch in the leg, press the heel away and pull the toes towards your head. Relax the shoulders, neck and face. Make sure the shoulders are parallel to the floor. Use the arms only enough to keep the head in contact with the knee. Hold for 4-10 breaths. To release, inhale the arms up over your head, exhale them to the floor. Repeat other side.
Kneeling cat cow: Come to all fours, placing your wrists beneath your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. Curl your toes under and spread your fingers wide, with the index and middle fingers pointing forward. Inhale deeply to lift the heart and hips. Exhale to round the spine, engaging your abdominal muscles and curling your chin to your throat.
Child’s pose: Kneel on the floor. Touch your big toes together and sit on your heels, then separate your knees about as wide as your hips.
Exhale and lay your torso down between your thighs. Broaden your sacrum across the back of your pelvis and narrow your hip points toward the navel, so that they nestle down onto the inner thighs. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of the pelvis while you lift the base of your skull away from the back of your neck.
Lay your hands on the floor alongside your torso, palms up, and release the fronts of your shoulders toward the floor. Feel how the weight of the front shoulders pulls the shoulder blades wide across your back.
Forward fold: From child’s pose put all the weight through your feet and walk your hand towards towards your feet. Ensure both feet are flat on the floor with ankles and toes touching, hands resting softly on the ground. Bend the knees enough to bring the palms flat to the floor and the head pressed against the knees. Feel the spine stretching in opposite directions as you pull the head down and in and press the hips up. Work on straightening the legs to deepen the stretch in the backs of the legs.
Breathe and hold for 3-10 breaths, actively pressing the belly into the thighs on the inhalation.
Slow roll up: From Forward fold softly bend the knees and let the arms hang. From here begin to slowly roll up using the legs and back to bend bit by bit as you eventually come to a standing position. Finally, smile!
Hopefully you now feel ready for your day.
Remember, if at any point you feel pain, please seek help. If you are unsure you can do it alone for the first time, ask a friend to do it with you.