My first ever memories of Yoga was a book my mum showed me back in the early 90’s. I remember it had a lady on the front in a blue leotard and I thought the yoga was a way of getting fit. I was around 11 and it’s an important time for a young girl as you are becoming aware of your body and how it’s changing. I remember practicing some of the poses on the floor in my bedroom and feeling really good about it, thinking I can actually do this and enjoying it. I don’t remember when I stopped practicing really, but it was years later when I took it up again.
I don’t think I realised how powerful yoga was at changing your perception of the world and its challenges back then. I used yoga as a part of my keep fit routine alongside weight training and running for many years. I remember laying in Mohan’s classess listening to his melodic voice saying not to entertain any other thoughts, as my mind raced through my to do list, things in the past I couldn’t do anything about, and wondering how much longer I had to hold this pose that restricted my breathing and made me feel a little sickly or uncomfortable. I remember listening to the instructions of how to breathe and think to myself what difference did it actually make? I’m breathing that’s the main thing. I remember how frustrated I’d get if I couldn’t hold a pose, but I persevered for years because by the end of that class in a basic council run sports hall in Liverpool I knew that when I left that room I felt different to when I went in. And I liked it.
I suffered a small back injury that prevented me lifting weights, and back in 2017 that was what I liked doing. The thought of not being able to train hit me really hard mentally, I felt as though all my hard work was going to be wasted if I couldn’t continue to train. Going to the gym had given me the strength to get through my divorce and I was devastated. The one thing I could continue to do was yoga so I threw myself in to it and practiced most days, going to classes and watching you tube videos. I began to notice a change in my body I decided a little while after this to see about learning to teach classes and if it was something I could do. I loved the idea of being able to teach a class full of people how to move their body and get more toned and fitter and it was for everybody not just the young and fit but the older and the less mobile people who were overweight or weaker. Genuinely yoga is for everyone, I just didn’t realise how powerful the practice could be on you mentally.
Over the next year I had a tough time in work due to anxiety and stress levels so I went to see my doctor to see if he could help me in any way. He prescribed me beta blockers for my tightening chest and the panic. I was shocked at first as I’ve never been prescribed anything for my mental state and I felt a little weak and pathetic. I took the tablets for 4 days and then woke up one morning numb inside and just thought no way I am not this person I refuse to let this beat me.
I decided to look at yoga and meditation in different way and use it as a tool to learn my body and mind connection and control my thoughts and reactions. Over the next few months I spent time learning different teaching styles and attending classes like meditation. I noticed how it had a profound effect on how I felt mentally, not just my stress and anxiety levels, but the way I looked at life and death. When I passed my teacher training in 2019 I taught my first free class in a community centre in Kensington and loved it. I felt like this was one job I could do because I loved it and the people who needed Yoga the most were often the people in the lower income areas.
I have gone around different free events in Liverpool teaching yoga to people who might not step in to a sports hall or a yoga studio. I’ve been to community halls in the Wirral, Kensington, taught free classes in parks. I now teach in Vauxhall medical centre for free to patients that are referred, John Williams is the wellbeing link worker for central Liverpool and we were put in touch by Ruth Worthington who works for a charity Live Well Liverpool who had been to one of my free events.
Basically Yoga has taken over my life, there is a yoga mat on the floor of the living room that’s used daily and I spend most of my time on it practicing Yoga meditation or reading about yoga and how this simple practice can have extraordinary results on your mind and body. It’s a practice that has taught me who I am, stopped me for letting worry and stress take over my thoughts , taken me from a glass half empty to glass half full and has made me more curious about it than anything else I have ever known.
The thing for me now is to share the simple practice of breathing a little bit deeper and becoming aware of your body and the subtle movements as you make them. To become aware of your own thoughts exactly as you create them in your mind and then learn how to let them go, and teach you how to stop becoming consumed by them.
As much as modern medicine is fantastic I feel that we often lose sight of the simple things that we can and should be doing alongside it, often treating the symptom without fully addressing the cause of the issue. Yoga can help your body become stronger and when you feel stronger you can mentally take on more. Breathing can alter your state of mind and with more studies coming out science is constantly proving things with regards life style medicine. Yoga breathing and meditation and a sense of community really can improve people’s wellbeing dramatically.
Studies have shown that physical exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus region of the brain improving mood and memory function. Yoga can help stimulate the vagus nerve improving the brain gut connection. Stress and anxiety often cause digestive upset because of the way the vagus nerve connects the brain and gut. Some of the benefits of stimulating your vagus nerve include lowering blood pressure, improving cardiovascular health, enjoying better sleep, reducing anxiety, and boosting brain health. Ways to stimulate the vagus nerve are things like singing, deep conscious breathing, light exercise and massage, most of which Yoga and mindfulness practices can help to achieve.
I think that being able to prescribe more activities such as Yoga on the NHS could dramatically increase patient’s wellbeing and hopefully reduce the amount of medicine that we need to prescribe or at least work alongside the medication to give people a way of helping themselves. Your body is a powerful machine and it is very capable of healing and looking after its self.
For me it’s about changing the perception of yoga it’s not about the lycra clad middle class woo woo types. It’s about really learning about your own body and mind, noticing the little things, being more grateful. Slowing down the things you do and really start appreciating the task in hand. Remembering that you are not controlled by your thoughts, and by moving your body and breath together you can take your mind to places of real calm as a happy side effect.