One common reason that people turn to yoga is to try to find ways to reduce anxiety and stress. Yoga is a very powerful tool for this. You don’t have to be able to do complicated postures to achieve this benefit, as long as you have a pair of lungs you are able to harness this benefit.
Anxiety is a persistent feeling of unease, that may or may not have an obvious cause. It is different from stress, because stress generally has a root cause (although this can be an imagined situation, there is still a root cause). The stress response will pass once the cause is no longer an issue.
Anxiety is connected to stress, but the cause can be very non specific. Anxiety can be seen as a build up of stress. An anxiety attack may be provoked by something seemingly very insignificant. It is, in fact, the build up of anxiety that creates the problem.
There are many types of anxiety, including phobias, PTSD, post natal anxiety, IBS, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, social anxiety, hoarding and much more.
Some 3 million people in the UK are believed to suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.
Yoga is an excellent tool to help reduce anxiety. It can help you restore some peace to your life if you suffer with any form of anxiety disorder. There are many ways that Yoga can help to reduce anxiety.
Slowing the breath and bringing awareness to your breathing in Yoga soothes and calms the nervous system. This is known as Pranayama. This takes the body and mind out of the stress response, and restores the body to balance and relaxation. Learning to breathe well has numerous benefits, but the impact on the stress response is possibly the one that 21st Century humans need most!
Anxiety is the result of thoughts that seem beyond your control. When you learn to sit quietly, to focus on the breath, and to let go of the thoughts that try to distract you, in time you will find that you are better able to do this in daily life as well. This control of the thoughts is a powerful way to reduce anxiety and stress (old video).
One of the first lessons I was taught on Yoga teacher training was Swami Gitanada’s ‘Three Rules of Yoga’. These are ‘Don’t Judge, Don’t Compare, Don’t Beat Yourself Up‘. These rules are very powerful guides for happy living in terms of how you interact with the world and yourself. So much anxiety and unhappiness comes from judgement, comparison and self recrimination – being able to let go of these will free you from so much stress and anxiety.
Yoga teaches the value of acceptance of the current state of things. That is not to say that you cannot make changes, but Yoga asks us to accept, without judgement or criticism, the fact that life is as it is. From this state of acceptance you can look calmly at what changes you need or want to make in life. This is a very empowering way to approach life – the ability to say ‘yes, this sucks, it is what it is, and I can accept that this is where I am now’ enables you to take ownership of what has happened in your life and move forward.
The mind and body are intrinsically linked – what the mind experiences manifests in the body, and vice versa. If you have anxiety in your mind, it will find its way to physical symptoms, such as IBS, high blood pressure, headaches and more. Similarly, tension held in the body will add to tension in the mind. Yoga helps you to release this tension through breath work, postures and end of class relaxation. The practice of ‘throwing out’ which I teach in all my local and one to one classes, is a powerful and healing practice that allows you to release mental tension through the body.
Yoga practices produce a neurotransmitter known as GABA. This is a chemical in the brain that makes us feel good and happy. This natural high is the reason that people leave yoga classes smiling. GABA deficiency is a contributory factor in conditions such as anxiety and IBS, so regular Yoga could help to alleviate this deficiency and reduce the anxiety at a biological level.
In addition to the increase of GABA, Yoga also reduces Cortisol, the stress hormone, thereby producing a double whammy of anxiety reduction and happiness.
As you can see, there are some powerful reasons why Yoga could help you to reduce anxiety and stress. Would you like to give it a try? Subscribe now for your free 45 minute Yoga class lesson and practice tracker. Give a regular practice a try and see how you feel as a result. You never know, it might transform your life!
Flexibility is seen by many as a pre-requisite to practising Yoga. This is a damaging and worrying misconception. yoga will increase the flexibility in your body, reducing stress and tension in your muscles and your mind, but you don’t need to be flexible before you start. Indeed, the complicated, acrobatic posture you see on Instagram are not the purpose of Yoga at all, the purpose of Yoga is what you learn about yourself in the postures.
That said, physical flexibility is important for physical and mental health. As we age, we lose that flexibility, and this can lead to pain, loss of mobility, increased risk of injury and more. These simple practices, known as Jattis, can reduce tension and stiffness in the body and improve physical flexibility and wellbeing in a very short space of time.
These movements might not seem like much, but they are powerful. In one session, you will feel looser and more relaxed in body and mind. I have delivered taster sessions to people where this has been all we have done, and the impact has been amazing to see – the reduction in stress is visible on their faces.
Try the movements in this video now, and every day, and let me know what difference and benefits you see from the practice. You might be pleasantly surprised at how quickly you see progress. These are the same practices we do in all my classes, so you can try them out before you come along to a class, or to practice between classes.
And remember, progress is how far you move from where you are, not reaching anyone else’s level!
As the Wellbeing Wednesday show fell on World Mental Health Day 2018, I talked about mental health throughout the show. I was joined on the phone by Sally Evans, founder of LifeBuddy, a new project that is committed to promoting good mental health, primarily in women and children, but for men as well
World Mental Health Day is marked every year to raise awareness of the need for support, understanding and compassion for those with mental health conditions, to promote good mental health, and to remind us that we all have mental health, and that mental health conditions can affect anyone at any time.
Mental ill health can be a lifelong problem which needs management and support, but it shouldn’t be a source of shame, of mistrust and fear. The media often represents mental health problems as the reason people do bad things, and this has contributed to a stigma that can make it very hard to seek help or even want to admit you have a problem.
I have experienced this in my own life – not wanting to reach out for help because of fear of the consequences of admitting I was struggling. Failing to seek help doesn’t make the problem go away, far from it.
It is so important that as a society we create an environment where people can feel safe to say. Companies House, who I interviewed on the show a few weeks ago, are a great example of this. They have worked hard to create a culture where people know they will be listened to, supported and helped through their mental health issues, and it has reaped benefits for the staff and the organisation. Providing mental health support at work seems like many businesses to be an expense they can’t afford, but Companies House proves that it is an investment worth making. I can help with this in my ‘day job’ if you would like to explore how you can better support your staff wellbeing at work.
On September 12 on the wellbeing Wednesday show, I was talking about love. I had been to a talk about the neuroscience of love, and while I couldn’t recall all the scientific facts, I was fascinated by the topic. The topic of love gave me the chance to wax lyrical about my love of George Harrison, I was getting excited for the next part of my tattoo inspired by George!
I was only on the show for an hour, and the second hour was ably taken over by the lovely Shay Fisher, so huge gratitude to Shay for helping me out.
In the busiest show I’ve had, I welcomed 4 guests to the show on the 5th September!
Georgia Walbey, an NLP trainer and coach from Evolve NLP, came on to talk about how we can learn to control our emotions, to rewrite the programs that run in our mind (you know, the one that tells you, for example, that you didn’t like sprouts when you were 6, so you know you don’t like them at 45, to use a very trite example). NLP is a therapeutic tool that enables people to rewrite these programs to create powerful change in life.
Rebecca Elley came on to talk about her Empower Me online Festival which is an online festival aimed at promoting self empowerment and wellbeing for all.
Playwright Bethan Morgan came in to talk about her new play, 35 Times, which was beginning a welsh tour in the Park and Dare the following week. The play talks about the subject of domestic abuse, sharing stories of abuse in the home in a cafe style setting. The play clearly raises some important issues, which may feel uncomfortable, but which we need to talk about. Domestic abuse is far more common than most of us would like to admit, with reported incidents rising by 23% in 2017. The number of reported cases is just the tip of the iceberg, however, as many people don’t report for a number of reasons. The play’s title comes from a statistic that women will experience domestic violence incidents 35 times before they report. Any one of those 35 times could be too late to report.
If you have seen the play, I’d love to hear about your thoughts on it – I didn’t get to see it as I was on the air, but I’m sure it was amazing. If you have been affected by domestic violence in the Rhondda, please get in touch with Women’s Aid RCT for help and support.
Finally, I was joined by another Bethan, Bethan Jones from Valleys Steps. Valleys Steps offers free mindfulness and stress management courses throughout RCT, to promote wellbeing and good mental health. To date, Valleys Steps have supported over 1000 people in their wellbeing journey.
Rhondda Radio is officially launching on 106.1 FM on Sunday 29th July, and Rhondda Yoga will be there!
Not only will I be offering taster sessions at the launch event (one at 2pm, and one at 3pm) but I am also a Rhondda Radio presenter!
Join me every Wednesday from 1-3pm on 106.1FM where I will be presenting the ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ show. I will be discussing different aspects of wellbeing (not just Yoga!), and talking to people who are working within the Rhondda to help improve wellbeing and health throughout the valley. We will talk about relevant issues as they arise, share events that are taking place to do with wellbeing, and showcase all the ways you can take care of your health in the Rhondda area.
Is there is a topic you would like me to discuss? Would you like to be a guest to discuss anything to do with wellbeing in the Rhondda? Do you know an organisation you think would be interesting for me to interview? Please do get in touch if so! You can contact the Rhondda Radio studio at email@example.com (put Wellbeing Wednesday in the subject line)
I’d love to hear from you, and to have you take part in the show. You can email and phone in when I am on air too, so if you have anything to add to the discussion, I’d love to hear from you!
In ancient India, Yoga was pretty much exclusively a male occupation. If you look at the history of Yoga, you will see that all the famous Gurus who travelled to the West to share the message of Yoga were men.
And yet, oddly, in the West, Yoga is a predominantly female activity. In America, according to a recent study, 72% of Yoga practitioners are female.
This is bad news for men (and for women I have to say!).
Yoga is a powerful way of life that promotes good physical and mental health, increases strength, flexibility and muscle tone, reduces stress, improves sleep and energy levels, and much more besides.
Given the recent attention being rightly given to male mental health, we need to look at ways that men can take care for themselves differently. Much of the sport and intense physical exercise that is in the ‘male’ arena is deeply competitive in nature. While some competition is good, and striving
to be the best can lead you to great things, when it comes to taking care of yourself, competition can be counter productive. Too much competition, in the sporting world and in life, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, causing turmoil and damage to the self esteem. In yoga, you don’t have to be THE best, you only have to be the best YOU. Yoga will help you to get to that place of acceptance of who you are in all your glorious, flawed perfection
Men can gain hugely from attending a Yoga class that is focused on relaxation, getting in tune with yourself, learning to breathe and gently nurturing the body. With the need for competition gone, there is no need to fear ‘locker room’ style mockery if you can’t get into a posture. You can quieten the ego, take a deep breath and simply be.
Judo master Huw appreciates the advantages of Yoga. He is attending my classes in Pontypridd, and is already seeing the benefits after just a few weeks. He writes
Tried yoga for the first time yesterday. Didn’t know what to expect despite having done quite a lot of research. I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite being the only male in a class of nine females. Esther was very welcoming and helpful. I was allowed to take the class at my own pace, I felt strangely energised and relaxed (if that’s even possible) after the class. I will definitely be going back. Highly recommended
Huw Jones, EGH Judo
I would love to see more men practise Yoga. I think it would do you all so much good, and be better for the people around you too.
Feel free to drop me a message if you would like to ask me anything, and ladies, please share this with the men in your life!
Yesterday I shared with you 5 ways you can practice yoga in your life when you aren’t able to get to a yoga class.
Today I am going to share 5 more practices that you can integrate into your busy days. Today I will share 5 more ways you can find peace and calm in the midst of a hectic life.
The digital world offers a myriad of ways to distract and numb the mind from the realities of your emotions. It provides constant stimulation, and a never ending dopamine rush, creating more need for the highs you get from it. Notifications and the emotional roller coaster of TV and other entertainment prevents us ever having a moment to just fully be in the moment.
Switching off all your devices, and being exactly where you are right now, is a powerful way to allow your mind to rest. As we live in an increasingly digital world, I think it is going to become ever more important that we are able to function without them, to retain mastery over our own minds, and not allow technology to dictate how we behave. Try allocating time every day to step away from all devices, or consider things like not taking your phone with you when you are meeting a friend for coffee, spending time with the children, focusing entirely on the task you are doing, going for a walk, and going to bed. Re-acquaint yourself with boredom, with not having anything to distract and stimulate your mind, with being present with the person you are with, and living in the moment.
The first of the Yamas of Yoga is Ahimsa, or non-harming. This might seem like quite a simple thing to practice, but it is deceptively difficult. It requires us to treat all living beings with compassion, and not to cause harm to any. Including ourselves.
There are numerous ways that we cause harm without intending to in our day. We can cause harm with our thoughts, words, and actions. Alanis Morissette wrote a fantastic song called ‘Versions Of Violence’, in which she lists many of the ways that we can harm another, without realising it.
How many of these can you recognise in your own behaviour, both to yourself and others. How many harsh things have you said to yourself today? Have you taken out the stress of the morning commute on someone else? Did you shout at the children and now feel bad about it? I don’t want to list lots of ways you could have caused harm and make you feel bad, but I invite you to think about it.
Just for today, could you try to raise your awareness of how you are treating yourself and others, and make a concerted effort to act with a little more compassion?
As i mentioned above, the ability to sit and be with yourself is a vital one, and one that the modern world makes harder and harder. The main, original purpose of Yoga postures was to get the body fit to sit in meditative postures for extended periods of time. The modern world has made Yoga mostly about moving the body, but in truth, the essence of Yoga is in developing the ability to be still.
A daily practice of sitting quietly, focusing on the breath, training the mind to be still, is one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself. Research has found a wide range of benefits in this practice, from increased concentration, to better sleep, reduced stress and greater compassion to name but a few.
In this video I guide you through a 10 minute practice of sitting quietly. Try to fit in even a few minutes into your day every day, and see what benefits it brings.
Walking is a great form of physical exercise, and a wonderful way to see places you won’t see, and notice the little details that you don’t notice, in a car. Walking is also a fantastic way to keep mental health in check. Research has shown that it lifts the mood, increases heart health, reduces stress and much more.
Walking can also be a powerful way to reconnect with your body. As you go about your day, the chances are you don’t really notice or think about your body that much, beyond tending to basic biological needs, or feeding yourself. Modern life has separated us from ourselves so much that we rarely stop and appreciate what a truly magnificent thing the human body, in all its shapes and sizes, really is.
You can turn your walk into a mindfulness exercise by getting really connected to your body. While it is best to do this without any stimulation or digital interference, it can be hard if you are completely new to it.
In this podcast I talk a lot about the benefits of walking, and share a 20 minute walking relaxation you can download to listen to as you walk.
As much as i advocate stepping away from digital distractions to increase inner peace and reduce stress, there are ways that technology can really help if you are struggling to ‘get yoga’ on your own. I heard from a growing number of people who were telling me a range of reasons why they couldn’t get to a class. Reasons included being too busy, not able to fit my times in with their time, social anxiety, fears of being in a room of people they don’t know, doing something they don’t know, being in the wrong country, and more beside.
I wanted to do something to help people access Yoga in a way that works, so I created Beginners Yoga Club. This is essentially an online Yoga studio, aimed at beginners. We will have weekly classes in which I will be teaching you basic loosening practices to help you to release the tension you have in your body, basic breathing practices, and relaxation. We will also do some simple postures. Each month there will be a pranayama (breath control) class, and we will have an online social space where we can get to know one another, learn from each other, share experiences and ask questions.
Beginners Yoga Club opens on June 1. Find out more at beginnersyogaclub.com
One of the common reasons I hear that people have for not being able to get to a yoga class is lack of time. I get it, I really do. We live in a crazily hectic world, with so many things we think we need to do. You have so many responsibilities, demands and desires pulling you in so many different directions, it can be hard to make time for yoga. Whose got time for a yoga class?
There are many ways you can get benefits from yoga if you are short on time. Here are 10 ways that you can incorporate Yoga into a busy day.
There is a famous quote that has been attributed to The Buddha (among others!) that says
“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes everyday – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour”
Now, I know I am talking about meditation in an article about yoga, but you cannot separate the two, and the principle behind the comment applies to both sitting quitely with the breath, and practising postures.
Both postures and stillness (meditation) allow the mind to still, release tension and stress from the body, teach focus and concentration, increase creativity, reduce stress, insomnia and depression and much more. All of these benefits will help you to achieve more in your working hours than pushing ahead and working all day.
The chances are you’ve got far more time than you think if work time is the barrier for you. Research has shown that the average worker doesn’t even work productively for half a working day. Spend a week tracking all your actual activities at work (with brutal honesty) and see how much of your time is spent in genuinely productive work, and see if you can squeeze in a bit of time for Yoga!
The daily commute can be a very stressful experience. Whether you drive or use public transport, it can be unpleasant, stressful, uncomfortable and exhsausting. You can be stressed out before you even make it to the office, and this can affect the whole of your day.
Instead of allowing stress and frustration overwhelm you, try practicing deep breathing as you travel. Simply breathing slowly, deeply and consciously will have many benefits, including
You have to be in the traffic if you need to commute. You get to choose how you feel about it. Deep breathing is the simplest way to calm the tension and allowing you to feel calm and happy as you walk into work
Santosha, or contentment, is one of the Niyamas of Yoga. This teaches us to be happy and accepting of whatever life sends our way. We cannot control what happens to us in life, we can only choose how we deal with it. A daily gratitude practice is a powerful way to choose positive emotions.
Practising gratitude doesn’t mean that we ignore the bad things that happen in life, but that we look for the ways that we can use it to learn and grow.
It can be hard to see the positives when you are going through a difficult time, but a regular gratitude practice helps you to see that there are still things worth celebrating in life, and enables you to see those lessons learned after the pain has passed.
You can learn more about the benefits of practising gratitude here
Swadhyaya, or self study is another of the Niyamas of Yoga. Yoga is all about personal evolution and growth, and it is impossible to do this if we don’t look objectively at ourselves. This can be hard to do with the conscious mind, we need to access the subconscious, and learn to listen to that part of ourselves.
A journaling practice can be a powerful way to uncover the things you don’t know you know and think. When you sit and write freely, without editing or censoring yourself, you uncover the parts of yourself that the conscious mind hides from view. It can be difficult sometimes, but through a daily writing practice, you can really get to know yourself better and see your life more clearly.
You can learn more about the power of self study here
Jattis are gentle loosening exercises that we do at the start of all of my classes. They are small, easy to do movements that can be done on the floor, or in a chair. There are even some that can be done standing up. They are a powerful way to improve health and wellbeing, releasing physical and mental tension, improving flexibility, increasing connection with the body, and allowing the body to relax.
You can read part two of this post here
Which of these practices will you try? I’d love to know, please share in the comments, and pass this post along to your busy friend who needs some Yoga!