The Power of Pause: For World Mental Health Day 2020, Leah Nylander of West Coast Yoga discusses the benefits of yoga and meditation for the Hippocratic Post.
As a Yoga Teacher I often hear students say, “I do Yoga for the Mind Stuff” and since the world has been in such turmoil, I have been hearing it more and more. This made me reflect on what bought me to Yoga and what is it about Yoga that has such a great effect on this Mind Stuff. And one of the biggest things I feel is Yoga’s ability to make us stop and be still; and it is in this stillness that the Power of the Pause lays. One of the most the most important verses in the Yogi’s Roadmap; Patanjali’s Sutras is “Chitta Vritti Nirodha” – Stilling the Fluctuations of the Mind.
I first came to Yoga when I was suffering from Anxiety and felt really disconnected, I had heard Yoga was wonderful for your mental health and the word Yoga itself means To Yoke, Join or Connect. The heart of Yoga is about connection to oneself so to me Yoga seemed a sensible thing to try when I was feeling all over the place. After going to Yoga for around 6 months I decided to give up on my Anxiety medication and to this point have not had the need to go back. Don’t get me wrong I still have my bad days, and these are the days I must revisit the philosophy behind the Yoga practice, and I find my place once more. Yoga is not a fix it all, some people will still need to take prescription medication to help with their mind stuff; Yoga can however help ease the burden of the weight sufferers are carrying.
How does Yoga work with the mind stuff? Years into my Yoga practice I started to notice I didn’t sweat the small stuff as much; I became more responsive and less reactive to things that used to trigger me. During my teacher training, my teacher often referred to the little magical pause that Yoga seemed to bring into the way we think about and action matters of the mind; this really resonated with me. With my teaching and continual education I am fascinated by the science behind the Yoga practices, of Asana, Meditation and Pranayama and there is so much to be heralded by the benefits of a regular Yoga practice for those who do suffer the mind stuff.
Through the Yoga principles of Asana, Pranayama and Meditation the student is lead from being in the Sympathetic Nervous System or SNS (Fight or Flight) into the Parasympathetic Nervous System or PNS (rest and digest) by stimulating the Vagus Nerve and calming the Amygdala in the brain. This allows us to feel a sense of calm and being in our centre. Yoga invites the student to become aware of the thoughts and sensations being experienced in the body and mind, getting to know why they are there and understanding their part in what makes us who we are. Life is full of both the positive and the negative and in all of our Humanness we must learn to navigate through the rough waters as well as the calm seas. Life will always throw us challenges, there is no avoiding this, but we have the choice in whether we react in an emotional way or respond from a more logical perspective. By living more in our PNS which is a byproduct of Yoga this allows us to view things from a less emotional more rational viewpoint. I now find that when I come across a situation that has the potential to upset me, there is an automatic pause almost a break in my thoughts whilst my rational brain speaks to the emotional and in a way asks itself “what we say or do next will make the situation worse or better, what would be our preferred outcome?” This takes place in all aspects of my life and thinking process, some days I choose the right path and other days my Anxiety takes over and I may not make the wiser choice, but that’s all part of being human.
Western Medicine is now recognising the power and importance of Yoga, Pranayama and Meditation in coping with this modern world of ours, something the ancient Yogis intuitively knew thousands of years ago. Perhaps it came from all of that sitting and being still when life was far less complicated and with their stillness of mind, Yogis became to know the secrets to finding their calm centre.
Next time you’re feeling a little on edge, perhaps try the following Yogic mindfulness technique known as a Kriya for 5 or so minutes and see if it helps to still your mind.
· Find somewhere quiet to sit
· Get comfortable
· Close your eyes or hold a soft gaze
· Commence to breathe in and out of the nose
· Become aware of the sensations of the breath in and the breath out
· Once you find yourself in a nice gentle rhythm imagine the vibration of the Mantra Hum on the in breath and Sah on the out breath. (We do this by visualizing how the Hum and the Sah would sound if we were to vocalise it, however for this exercise we internalize the sound)
· Repeat the repetition of Hum on the in breath and Sah on the out breath for as long as you wish
· Then let go of the Kriya and sit quietly with the effects of this technique
· Notice how you feel
Hum and Sah are said to be the natural sounds of the breath and as it is so familiar to our brain, it acts as an anchor to our thoughts all the while calming and stilling the mind. Our brains job is to think and process, however when we want to come to a place of calm and relaxation, we need the action of the brain to still or at least slow down. By following this Kriya you are still giving the mind a task to perform however it is a task that will benefit the process of practicing the Kriya technique.
Yoga Asana, Pranayama and Meditation may not be for everyone, but there is no harm in giving it a go; especially if it brings a little relief in a very hectic world.