Yoga and self-awarenessWritten by Mandy Haynes November 4, 2019
I first came to yoga when I was 18 years old. Prior to that my exercise habits were generally situated at the gym; running on the treadmill and attending Body Pump classes. I was looking for something new and fell upon a celebrity yoga DVD that kick-started my love for yoga.
At the same time as this, I was going through a particularly rough patch dealing with an eating disorder and depression and although physical exercise was something that I craved, I was also after something more; a way to get out of my head and quieten my mind.
I started attending yoga classes but the majority of my practice was at home in my living room where I muddled my way through Sun Salutations and some other basic poses.
Of course yoga has a myriad of physical benefits and through the practice I was building strength, particularly in the upper body, that I had not achieved with gym workouts and increasing my flexibility. As my practice grew, I started to find that my thought process about my body began to shift very slightly. Instead of hearing the almost constant negative, critical and downright cruel thoughts, new thoughts gradually began to appear – I was finding a new way to think about my body and I started to notice and appreciate the way my body was able to move and the shapes I was able to make as well as feeling a vague sense of pride as my practice began to improve.
Now, I am not claiming that yoga cured me of my eating disorder and body image issues, but it certainly played its part. It showed me new ways of thinking.
I loved the physical practice of yoga, but more than that, what I needed most was the benefits to my mental health that it was able to provide. For me, it is a form of moving meditation - the synchronisation of the breath and movement creates a union between body, mind and breath and really helps to quieten the normal "mind chatter”.
5 years ago I decided to do my yoga teacher training – I was looking for a new challenge and realised that teaching yoga would allow me to do something I love, and share that love with others! Nowadays due to my teaching schedule and having a young family, I don't get the chance to get to class as a student as much as I used to but I have found that teaching yoga has been just as beneficial mentally. It doesn't matter how my day has been, or what I've got going on in my personal life, when I'm on my mat guiding my students through a Vinyasa Flow sequence, I am fully in the present moment and focused. I am able to let go of all that “stuff” and enjoy an hour of mental stillness.
As well as providing a fun and creative flow for my students, I hope that I am able to give them that opportunity for their thoughts to quieten and for them to build on their sense of self.
I always begin my classes with a period of settling – I invite students to take a scan through their body to tune into how they are feeling physically at that moment; taking time to notice any injuries, aches or pain, areas of tightness or tension or where in the body they might like to find more space. We then move on to noticing how they are feeling mentally, emotionally and how their mood is at that point in time. For some, it might be the first time that day that they've really had the time to check in with how they are feeling and what's going on in their body and mind. I also use pranayama techniques and guided meditations to allow my students to move more deeply into their practice and increase their self-awareness.
There is a growing body of research to back up yoga’s mental health benefits. Yoga can increase body awareness, relieve stress, reduce muscle tension, strain, and inflammation, sharpen attention and concentration, and calm and centre the nervous system.
Whatever the reason you come to yoga, you're bound to experience the benefits to your physical and mental wellbeing. If you're yet to try it – what are you waiting for?? Hummingbird Pilates Yoga has an amazing variety of classes on offer – head over to www.hummingbirdpilates.co.uk to find out more!