Mindfulness and yoga of course go hand in hand. Norwich’s yoga teacher Jackie Heffer-Cooke explains how they can help anxiety…
Last weekend I went to an excellent CPD in London with Nadia Raafat of Birthlight, to discuss and think more upon what mindfulness is and how it can help people, especially with anxiety.
It was centred around pregnancy and birth, but most of what was taught, and what I learnt, is appropriate to all, not just pregnant or birthing women, but anyone who feels anxiety, or stress. So that’s probably all of us at some point in our lives.
The minds capacity to analyse, overthink, and tirelessly blame and shame and punish and correct is the human condition. Some people suffer more than others with these tendencies, and those who do can really suffer with depression, anxiety and other mental health problems.
I became aware of mindfulness when I started my massage training, some ten years ago now. During our course our wonderful Massage Training Institute tutors, Christine and Kit would help us with the experience of presence, grounding into the body and body scans. But it was later, when studying yoga with Swami Atma Gyanam Saraswati, that I truly understood what my mind was doing to me, and how I could help myself. I learnt how to meditate.
So, how can Mindfulness and Yoga together help Anxiety?
What is meditation?
Meditation is the practise of paying attention, being aware of body and mind and in particular habitual patterns of thought. It’s about becoming conscious of ourselves, rather than being dragged around by our inner emotions. In meditation, we learn to get to know our patterns, how to recognise them, observe them, note where they are coming from, and then chose to befriend them, to be kind to ourselves and accept.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness, it seems is the same, with mindfulness we understand that we can recognise, allow and accept each experience in the present moment as it arises. Meditation teacher and psychotherapist Tara Brach describes “the essence of meditation is to realise and inhabit this whole and lucid awareness”.
This is the basic practise of mindfulness. Noticing what is happening right now, and allow whatever is being experienced with a mindful, open intention.
Experience may come in the form of breath, sensation, feelings (pleasant and unpleasant) sense perceptions, thoughts and emotions; and even awareness itself. In this natural presence there is no real emphasis on controlling, or manipulating, it is merely being with it, being aware of what is there, and being able to let it be just where it is, without judgement.
This month’s yoga practise
This month we are looking at aspects of mindfulness and rooting it into our practise on, and off, the mat. Focus on being in our bodies, rooting ourselves
We will practise rooting, grounding, being very present in our bodies. With a focus on Muladhara chakra – our perineum, sitbones, pelvic floor – we focus on being really present – ON the mat – IN our bodies. Muladhara Chakra energy center is associated with your root issues, such as your sense of security, satisfying your basic needs, familial relationships, and how at home you feel in your body and on this planet. Pretty big stuff. When the root chakra is out of alignment, you may find yourself busily bouncing from one thing to the next in a rush without appropriate attention or intention. This can lead to exhaustion, anxiety, and stress. On the flipside its imbalance can result in a feeling of lethargy, being stuck, feeling unable to take action, and manifest intention.
Practising awareness of breath
Throughout this practise we will be aware of our bodies through our awareness of the breath with each Asana. The rise and fall of the breath. The release, the constriction. The openness, the tightness.
We will be aware of other physical sensations as they arise in the body, and what the mind does about them.
Listening and feeling the whole experience
The music, the lights, the room, the people around us, the judgements we make, the competition we put ourselves in, the grasping, the striving.
This practise on the mat, which we hope to take off the mat, will enable us to recognise and experience the depth of our own presence, and also to recognise the design and operational aspects of our own unique hub.
Hmmm, it’s going to be an interesting practise.
At the end of reading this, be aware of these words you have read, and now take a moment to experience how you feel about it. If you want to come and join us and learn more then make the choice. If not, then you don’t need it, or you may find it elsewhere, then that’s your choice too. But whatever drove you to reading this article, take some time to be aware and learn to understand yourself to a greater level. It will be the best experience you will ever have.
To help find your own route to Mindfulness try Jackie’s YogaBuds yoga class on a Monday or Thursday Evening in Norwich or take a look at her online meditation download.