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Practicing yoga through the blues

Practicing yoga through the blues

By Frank Jesse

It’s when the chips are down – emotionally or physically – that we can truly start to understand all that Iyengar yoga has to offer.

Practicing yoga when we feel exhilarated, relaxed and on top of life’s demands is a great feeling. It enhances all that is good in our lives.

But what about when life strikes a blow? When we get an injury or an illness, we are beset by sorrow or turbulence, or sheer exhaustion, then getting ourselves onto our mat can seem like a very big step.

It’s in these moments, however, that I have found yoga provides a bridge back to balance.

Just the act of practicing postures, even for a short time, can provide a sense of self-nurture and self-esteem.

Yoga builds both our physical and emotional strength, and our stamina. Practicing on a regular basis in the good times puts us in the best position to manage the tough times.

Within Mr Iyengar’s deep knowledge of yoga, however, there are plenty of postures and sequences that might be seen as “remedial” – a way to heal ourselves (in combination with relevant medical processes, of course).

Of course, almost any physical injury can be accommodated using Iyengar’s simple palette of props, such as chairs, bolsters, blocks and belts.

In a previous post, guests at Griffins Hill have revealed how they use yoga to manage or recover from conditions or illnesses. (See: How yoga makes me forget I have fybromyalgia).

Iyengar yoga teachers are trained to help you practice safely despite any physical limitations, including getting older. Mr Iyengar adjusted his practice in his later years.

Balancing emotions

Yoga impacts our emotions too.

You might recall our reports on the extraordinary impact that yoga has on the mental health of war veterans, and of prisoners.

For example, Virabhadrasana 2 (warrior pose 2) engenders a feeling of focus and direction as well as building up our arm muscles and leg strength and flexibility.

A sequence of backbends builds energy and work on our emotional centre by building confidence, resilience and fear of tackling the unknown.

Headstand develops our confidence, stamina, and emotional strength,while shoulder stand  sooths our nerves helping us to sleep more soundly and tackle lifes challenges more calmly

 In Iyengar’s own words, “Due to the soothing effect of the pose on the nerves, those suffering from irritation, shortness of temper, nervous [tension] and insomnia are relieved”

Restorative postures, typically held for several minutes each, slow us down and calm our energy and emotions, an experience that is heightened by keeping the eyes closed as much as possible and moving mindfully between the postures.

Releasing emotions

Most of us carry tension in our throats, shoulders or bellies. Strangely, the way we stretch and compress areas of the body in yoga can sometimes “unlock” memories and emotions that we had forgotten. Suddenly, we feel like crying, laughing or being alone.

Challenging postures – such as inversions – can also stir up fears related to past experiences, and we have to meet these fears again in order to do these postures.

If possible, we return to the practice of observation when these emotions occur, and take a step back. However, as teachers, we are also trained to help students manage this kind of experience.

When we are feeling vulnerable, it’s a good time to practice more nurturing supporting postures. It might also be helpful to talk through your emotions, and practice some postures without other people around until you feel emotionally stronger.

Yoga has an emotional aspect, as well as a physical and spiritual one. Used wisely, and with compassion, it can help us when we need it most.

 

Further reading

A path to holistic health by B.K.S. Iyengar. A very informative book with sequenses for ailments.

Karen Wilde using blocks to restore at Griffins Hill Retreat.  Frank Jesse helping Christina in a backbend.  Frank Jesse explaining a finer point at Griffins Hill Retreat

 

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