It's interesting how our world has changed in such a short period of time. Here we are in the third week of sheltering in place and social distancing, and we'll be doing this at least through April. The uncertainty of the current state of affairs creates stress, and stress impacts our health. Shallow breathing is a direct result of stress. Our heart rate increases and stress hormones flood our body to prepare us for action against a threat. The threat for most of us results from our thoughts creating negative emotions - worry, fear, anger, guilt - consuming our waking hours and prevent us from sleeping at night. Our brains are efficient and learn to focus on where we put our attention. So, if we spend our time thinking about the spread of the virus, the lack of toilet paper or other supplies, the things and people we are missing, fear of financial difficulties or other worries, we get really good at focusing on these things. We know, reasonably, that social distancing will end in the not-too-distant future, businesses will reopen, we will go back to work, and toilet paper will be plentiful.
In the meantime, the good news is that a consistent yoga practice can combat the impact of stress. and even improve our health!
Yoga breathing is the opposite of shallow breathing and is recommended by the medical profession to keep the respiratory system strong and improve patient outcomes across a number of conditions. Yoga breathing can shift our energetic state, taking us from anxiety to calm, or from lethargy to vitality. Deep breathing, as done in yoga, will shift the nervous system from the stress response (sympathetic or fight-or-flight) to the relaxation response (parasympathetic or rest-and-digest).
The full-body movement experienced in yoga makes the body feel better and strengthens the cardiovascular system. Movement, deep stretching and deep breathing improve the movement of lymph fluid throughout the body, enhancing the function of the lymphatic system. This system is a network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials while transporting infection-fighting white blood cells throughout the body.
Moving while breathing in yoga cultivates awareness of the body and the mind, helping to unite the two, creating a state of being in the present moment and peaceful.
I frequently use mudras, which are hand gestures that represent a quality such as fearlessness or immunity, during my practice. We can hold the gesture while holding or moving through a pose and focusing on the power of the pose to alleviate fear, for example,
Positive affirmations, statements such as "I am healthy", "I am peaceful and calm", or "All is right in my world", can shift us from a negative mental state into a positive state. We can use positive affirmations while doing a yoga practice. We can also use them during meditation practice.
Take a moment to think about your oral hygiene routine. It's a habit you do multiple times per day that results in healthier teeth and gums, fresh breath, and many other health benefits. Meditation is like mental hygiene. It's "flossing" for the brain. When you develop the habit, just like oral care, you do it and you feel refreshed afterward. But, it takes consistent practice, just like yoga, which, by the way, prepares the body for meditation.
Maybe until now, you thought yoga was just another form of exercise. I assure you it is that and much more! Yoga is a system that addresses the many layers of our being - physical, energetic, mental, and spiritual. This is why yoga is so effective - it offers whole-being health.
If you haven't tried yoga, I would love to introduce you to its many benefits. NOW is a perfect time to start!