If you cannot go outside, go inside
The benefits of yoga and meditation during lockdown: four proven ways to alleviate anxiety from expert yoga teachers, Victoria Ayling and Tara Lee
The lockdowns around the world have taken their toll on a significant amount of people suffering from heightened states of anxiety. Across the world, we collectively face the ongoing uncertainty of the Covid-19 crisis.
In light of this, the value of yoga and meditation takes on great relevance. Anxiety levels have been amplified during the global pandemic. The WHO and United Nations have asserted that: “mental health consequences are likely to be present for longer and peak later than the actual pandemic.”
Here, two yoga teachers, Victoria Ayling and Tara Lee, give their thoughts on cultivating a peaceful state of mind, in the midst of such uncertainty.
Let’s first start with a quote from Patanjali, author of the first Yoga Sutras: “Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence. When the mind has settled, we are established in our essential nature, which is unbounded.”
An opportunity for growth
Tara Lee describes how a lot of people are feeling low at the moment with their old routines taken away. “Many people thrive on the familiarity of a daily routine,” she says. “When that is taken away, we can find that we feel more exposed. The emptiness that we may have been trying to fill with other things – we are now made to face. However, we can also use this time as an opportunity for growth. We are without many of the distractions and can turn meditation and yoga into part of our daily life to reach a greater sense of calm and self-understanding.”
Victoria Ayling adds: “Yoga and meditation facilitate a checking-in with yourself to see how you are doing. The important thing is to learn to sit with the feelings you encounter. Become present, and be aware of how you are in the knowledge that any unsettling feelings will shift. Meditation gives a person the tools to find the solutions within oneself.”
Many people feel that their freedom to go out has been taken away and feel restricted right now. So, here are some different methods of reaching a state of inner expansiveness and stillness inside — whatever is going on outside.
“It is possible to mitigate anxiety through becoming aware of one’s breathing and working daily on therapeutic breathing techniques,” says Ayling. “You can find an expansive space within oneself, working with the full capacity of the lungs, engaging with the deep rhythms of your breath, releasing the holding on around the diaphragm.”
Yoga and gentle movements
“The asanas (yoga postures) are a pathway to reconnect with your inner self,” says Lee.“Yoga is sometimes called a moving meditation, synchronising one’s movements with the breath. Meanwhile, physical postures can enable one to get out of a negative mindset. People use movement to come into a meditative awareness to get out of the head and into the body.
One of the key postures of restorative yoga is lying on the floor with the legs up the wall; it is soothing for the nervous system and helps deepen your breathing, the same goes for mini shoulder stands. Child’s pose is also extremely therapeutic where you start on all fours with your knees wider than your hips, you then bring your hips back to your heels, reaching your arms forward with your hands resting on a bolster or a cushion. The effect of this pose can be soothing and grounding when feeling uncertain or panicked.”
What is Yoga Nidra? It is described in ancient Sanskrit texts as pure consciousness. It is also known as yogic sleep. “The practice was recently revived in the 1930s and has evolved with auto-suggestion and modern psychological teachings of the 20th century,” says Ayling. “Rod Stryker is worth googling for his yoga nidra classes available online to help de-stress. Also, i-rest is a modern form of yoga nidra, a technique now routinely used by the US Army to help treat PTSD. It is a deeply restorative practice that enables the mind’s complete relaxation. Yoga Nidra uses a variety of techniques, for example, imagining star points of light in the areas of your body which need relaxation. The exercise encourages imagining a galaxy of stars around the body, focusing attention on each point, going through the whole body. It can result in a state of blissful stillness.”
“Meditation is about slowing one’s thoughts down,” says Ayling. “You can do this by creating a one-pointed focus, using the flame of a candle or by repeating a mantra and affirmations such as: I am part of the universe and the universe is part of me. Some people use the Tibetan mantra repeating ‘Om mani Padme hum’, meditating on the innermost heart of compassion for oneself and all around.”
Tara Lee concludes that the ultimate goal of yoga is to prepare the body for effective and peaceful meditation. “Yoga is used to prepare the body to connect with the divine source and in realising that connection, one comes to see that there is no separation; it is about wholeness, connecting the body to the mind and the spirit. In this way, yoga leads to a steady and calm meditative practice and mindfulness. The depth of yogic philosophy is enormous, yet the simplicity of the techniques are like gently holding someone’s hand.”
When we make yoga and meditation a regular pursuit, we can learn to leave our troubled minds and connect with our inner selves. These practices are rooted in ancient philosophy dating back five thousand years to ancient India. As we face these uncertain times, we can call upon this wisdom to reconnect with ourselves to find peace within.
Victoria Ayling originally qualified with the British Wheel of Yoga and went on to create Yoga-Tastic, which offers flow yoga, yoga nidra and foundational teacher training courses. Visit: yoga-tastic.co.uk
Tara Lee trained in Ashtanga and went on to study different forms of yoga including Para Yoga with Rod Stryker. She is well known for her specialist practice in Pregnancy Yoga. Visit: taraleeyoga.com