By Jas Bhandal
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue we, as a society, face. Anxiety disorders can be triggered by many things – traumatic event, outcome of a situation or sometimes our anxiety is triggered by nothing at all. Yoga and meditation are quickly becoming highly regarded as useful tools to manage feelings of stress, anxiety and pain. Here are a few reasons why:
- Yoga helps regulate our breathing: One of my favourite saying that I repeat quite often – if we can control our breath, we can control our mind. Think about it; it’s near impossible to have a racing mind and calm breath, and vice versa. If we’re taking slower, deeper breaths, then our nervous system knows to calm down. As a result, we are able to focus on one thing and think more clearly. It doesn’t even take long, by slowing our breathe for 2 minutes can help refocus our mind and calm down.
- Yoga teaches us mindfulness and body awareness: Do me a favour right now. Take a slow, deep breath in and feel your entire chest and diaphragm expand like a balloon. Now, exhale completely, and feel your body sink in to the space you created. Did your shoulders roll down and away from your ears? Did your jaw relax a little? How about your neck? These are all areas where we hold stress and tension. When we mindfully direct our breath to specific areas of the body, we’re able to relax our bodies on an even deeper level.
- Yoga and meditation helps manage our response to pain: There was a small study conducted at the University of Utah that looked at how yoga impacted participants’ response to pain. There were three groups of people: a group of experienced yogis, a group of individuals with fibromyalgia, and a group of healthy volunteers. Fibromyalgia is a condition that many researchers believe is related to stress and makes people hyper-sensitive to pain. The research showed that yoga practitioners had the highest levels of pain tolerance, and lowest levels of pain. Essentially, the study concluded, when individuals were able to manage their stress responses, they were better able to manage their pain responses as well.
- Yoga teaches us to embrace discomfort: I know I’ve said this in my classes before – we aim for a wee bit of discomfort…but never pain – often called ‘finding your edge’. If there’s pain, ease out of the pose completely. By finding our edge and staying there, we learn how to use our breath to calm our urge to run in the opposite direction, and instead, stick with it for a few more breaths. In time, we may feel our muscles release and relax, and the connection to our body increase.
- Meditation calms an overactive mind: Deepak Chopra, M.D. has proven time and again the profound impact that meditation has on our mind and by extension, our wellbeing. One of the aspects of anxiety is characterized by racing thoughts that just won’t slow down. With a regular meditation practice, we’re able to allow the thoughts to enter our mind and simply observe them. We begin to understand that we are not our thoughts and are able to detach from them. There is massive power in understanding and exercising this process. It may take some time to master and that’s okay. If you’re one of those people that has said that “you can’t meditate”, if you’re willing to try again, having a patient teacher or guide may be beneficial.
And there you have it! These are only 5 ways that yoga and meditation can help manage anxiety and pain…there are numerous other benefits. My challenge to you this month is to find your happy place, set a timer and see if you can practice meditation for just 3 minutes a day. Let me know how it goes!
From my heart to yours,
Jas Bhandal is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT 500) with over 15 years’ experience. She takes on a holistic approach to teaching, and has developed a lifestyle and practice centred around mindfulness. She works with individuals who are feeling overwhelmed and burnt-out, and helps them to regain balance, build strength, and feel like they can BREATHE again. She feels that life is meant to be lived with joy, gratitude, and a dedication to being present, and uses these elements to help her students connect to themselves and their communities.