Yoga for Mental Health
August 25, July 27 & July 25, 2016 by Stuart Rawlins
I think just about everyone has either heard about or read about the benefits of yoga!
Well today I have embarked on my own journey to try yoga to see what it is like and to see how it may help or improve my mental health. Having suffered from both PTSD and Depression from being exposed to some ………….not nice incidents in my 13 years as a Police Detective I am always keen to try new ways to improve my mental health.
Living on the Sunshine Coast the amazing team from Zenko Yoga in Buddina have provided me with an opportunity to give it a crack and see what I think. I will be updating this article after every session so you can get to read about my thoughts and experiences as hopefully I get better and better at learning to relax.
25/07/16 – Session One
Well after a quick weekend visit to A-Mart All Sports to get my yoga mat I was set and ready to go for my first yoga session.
Waiting outside the centre I bumped into another keen yoga participant who quickly told me how much I would love it and become addicted to the relaxing feeling it brings. We had a quick chat and I managed to let out that it was my first ever yoga session and I was a tad bit nervous. With a warm reassurance that I would be fine the doors opened and in we went.
After getting changed and a short introduction to the instructor I was shown through to where it all happens. My first thoughts…………..My god with the lighting, aroma in the air and music I felt a bit relaxed already.
The instructor (Lauren) showed me where to get put my bags and what extra equipment I would need before finding a spot for me on the floor area where I could clearly see her during the session. Straight up I though this was a great idea as I basically only knew how to do a ‘Downward Dog‘, and that is only because my seven year old daughter showed me how on the floor at home.
With a quick pep-talk Lauren was off and I sat and waited on my new yoga mat as the rest of the class arrived. I must admit although I had absolutely no idea of what was to come the talk from Lauren and just the general atmosphere of the room actually made me feel really comfortable about what I was going to try.
Following what everyone else seemed to be doing I started stretching whilst lying on my yoga mat, then the doors were locked, the lights dimmed and the relaxing music was turned up and the session was starting.
I must admit it was a bit warmer than I expected in the room and I don’t think that was just my perception or an accident but it sure did make me sweat!
My fear of only knowing the Downward Dog position soon went away as Lauren talked everyone through the different positions as she completed them. Whenever I couldn’t see Lauren to see exactly what she was doing I simply looked at one of the other class participants on either side of me to see for guidance.
Sweat? Yes I most certainly did. More than I had ever sweated during a gym workout or even after going for a decent run. I must admit after the first 10 minutes of doing the different positions I thought to my inner-self ‘There is no way I am going to make it through an hour of this’. But I did! Did I fall out of a few of the positions? Yes I did! The nice thing was, no-one cared about my clumsiness, no-one looked sideways at me and no-one judged me.
What was even more reassuring was a number of participants were invited up to the front of the class to take the entire class through their take on a certain position………’The Squirrel‘. Yes the squirrel! I could tell you about the squirrel but that would be talking out of class.
Position after position I focused on my breathing in and out at the right times and I can tell you that no thoughts other than what I was doing at that exact moment were in my head. After a while Lauren came and checked on me and with a few quick words of encouragement it was soon time for the meditation part of the session.
Focusing on breathing in and breathing out whilst lying on floor for the meditation part of the session was deeply relaxing. The odd instruction to change position was just the prompt to ensure I hadn’t fallen asleep in my very first yoga session.
As we all sat up Lauren finished off the session with a number of positive affirmations which was really nice!
Sitting and writing this article I can feel some soreness from my first yoga session and I am guessing that it will only be more prevalent in the morning and coming days. What I can say is that if you haven’t tried yoga before then stop waiting, stop wondering and get out and give-it-a-go!
It would have to be the most comfortable I have ever felt in a room filled with strangers.
Below is a quick video I made after finishing my first yoga session.
28/07/16 – Session Two
A few days of soreness after my first yoga session and I was ready to have another go, actually I couldn’t wait to have another go!
Confession Time – I really wanted to try an early morning yoga class for session two. I don’t use an alarm clock and haven’t done so for the last nine years. Why? I have three young children and they normally work better than any alarm clock I have ever used.
Unfortunately we had a challenging night with my youngest child and I missed my window to make it to the early morning class, so the Thursday night class it was!
I felt a lot more comfortable entering the yoga studio for my second class, somewhat a bit cocky I would say……………. until I noticed that Lauren my instructor from session one was not there!
But with a quick introduction to my new instructor (Bettina) I was off into the studio to get set up for my second ever yoga session.
Once again the room was nice and warm and after finding my same spot on the floor I got my equipment. Whilst doing so I asked one of the other participants about a piece of equipment that I saw different people lying on during my first session. After a quick introduction and chat I soon realised, there are some really nice people that do yoga! Warm, welcoming and keen to help a super-newbie like myself.
This time I didn’t have to watch the other people in the room to do my stretches which made me feel a lot more comfortable in my new surrounds.
With a dim of the lights our instructor Bettina kicked off my second ever yoga session. Some different positions this time which included a fair bit of balancing on one leg in different poses and quite a few positions that really targeted and required the use of those core stabilising muscles. Yes the ones I don’t currently have!
I found it a bit easier to focus on my breathing during my second session but as my fitness is nowhere near where it should be I was still sweating …………… A LOT. I honestly never thought that yoga was such a physical workout? I just thought it was a lot of sitting around holding your hands in different positions. How wrong I was!
I found strength in the fact that I managed to make it through the first ten minutes without thinking I was going to collapse in a heap in front of my other classmates. For those of you who are thinking you have a similar lack of overall fitness like myself, don’t be concerned, it is not an issue. Bettina continually offered people the opportunity to use or go into a resting position/pose called ‘Child’s Pose’.
Child’s Pose is a resting pose that can be used after completing a challenging pose and one that relaxes the mind, body and soul…………and lets you catch your breath! Yes I took up the offer!
Once again I saw a ‘Squirrel’ but this time it was an upside down squirrel. If you have read about my first Yoga for Mental Health Session you will know I can’t tell you about the different squirrel poses, you have to be there to see them.
Mid-way through the session I found myself looking forward to the ten minutes of meditation. Not because I wasn’t enjoying myself but because I was looking forward to really trying to relax as much as possible and the feeling that it brings.
I struggled a bit with fully relaxing during the meditation time in my first session as I don’t think I was able to fully get the white noise out of my head. This time I concentrated harder on listening to my own breathing and allowed my mind to wonder away from my thoughts about work, my week’s activities and what I was going to do the next day.
I don’t think I fully got there again so it is something I am really going to work at, with each session I attend. I find that finishing the yoga session with a meditation period does add to making me feel very relaxed and calm when I leave so I really want to try to get the most out of that part of the session.
I didn’t feel as sore last night after my second session and I honestly felt an overwhelming sense of calm for the rest of my evening at home.
I look forward to continuing with my trial of Yoga for Mental Health as I like what I am feeling and experiencing so far.
25/08/16 – Session Three
Fresh back from a two week family adventure of New Zealand’s South Island and it was time to continue my ‘Yoga for Mental Health’ sessions.
I have been really missing the relaxation from my previous sessions and as strange as it sounds also the slight soreness that I felt the next day. You know the soreness that is there just enough to remind you each time you move that you have done some exercise. Its a good feeling!
With my third session came a different teacher – Max! After a quick introduction at the front counter Max took the time to explain to me what the session would bring a how important it was to concentrate on my breathing.
With tips in hand and a borrowed yoga mat (Yes I managed to leave mine at home) it was time to head in and get ready for my third yoga session.
Walking through the large frosted glass door into the studio I was met with the same immediate sensory feeling of relaxation as last time. I don’t know if I had forgotten how good the feeling was or simply appreciated how it made me feel right at that moment, but it was good, really good.
With the room warmer than normal, the lights slightly dimmed and some kind of relaxing music playing in the background, simply walking into the environment evoked an overwhelming feeling of calm. Let me tell you this feeling alone is something to be savored!
A number of people were going about their business preparing for the session, some people were simply laying still relaxing and/or meditating and others were doing stretching exercises.
This time I decided to take the relaxing approach, so I simply laid back on my mat and concentrated on my breathing and trying to clear my mind.
Ten or so minutes later Max come in an kicked off the session and with all of my knowledge from my two previous sessions we were off!
Once again this session brought with it a whole range of new positions from my new teacher, Max. Strangely enough I found that my flexibility had increased when it did come to completing some of the poses/positions that I had completed in my earlier sessions.
Once again I found it very beneficial that Max not only completed the poses/positions in front of the class but she also talked the class through the movements and how to complete them. When I couldn’t see Max I simply looked at the people around me for some guidance.
If you haven’t tried yoga before, from experience don’t be deterred by not knowing how to do all the poses and positions. No-one will care, no-one will judge you and you will see other people just like yourself; learning as you go!
With the exercise part of the session over it was time to move into the relaxation/meditation time. I don’t know if all other yoga classes finish of with this but honestly I found it very beneficial. With the lights dimmed even more, the relaxing music turned up and some very positive affirmations from Max this part of the session is not to be underestimated.
Do I think yoga assists with your mental health? Yes I certainly do!
It is not something that you can go to once and think it will fix or cure your mental health condition. But I firmly believe that incorporating regular yoga sessions into your exercise regime will benefit your mental health and assist you in maintaining a healthy mind or simply help you cope with your busy life and all the stresses and pressures that come with it.
So if you haven’t tried yoga, go-on step out of your comfort zone and do something that I can assure you will be beneficial for your mental health. If you have tried yoga before and simply got to busy or let your membership lapse, go-on join back up and get back into it.
Why? Because you are worth it and so is your mental health!
If you are on the Sunshine Coast I can strongly recommend you give Zenko Yoga at Buddina a go, they can be located at www.zenkoyoga.com.au.
Keep an eye out for me, I will be the one sweating a lot and not quite hitting all the right positions/poses at the right times!
PS – I didn’t see any ‘Squirrels’ in my latest session but I did see a few ‘Pigeons’!
Live Life. Be Positive!
Stuart Rawlins | Healthy Mind Healthy Future
Providing you solutions for life’s mental health challenges!