1. They teach you to be present
If you try yoga for the first time, you may feel as though you are able to leave some of your everyday stresses behind – even if just for a moment. For Carmel, that’s part of what made yoga so appealing when she first discovered it several decades ago.
“Life just sort of slipped away for the hour and a half that I was there,” she notes.
And it’s part of what the practice is designed to do. “It’s about moving towards a healthier head space, trying to be present for that time,” explains Carmel. “This means trying to be in the moment, and not thinking about the past and future for at least the session.”
But this sense of ‘being in the moment’ is not just confined to what happens during the class. “The hope is that it carries on beyond the mat.” And with regular practice, it will.
2. They can help diffuse stress
As mindfulness organisation Smiling Mind explains, physical movement is a powerful way to diffuse stress or anxiety, by combatting the ‘fight or flight’ response that is automatically triggered during moments of acute anxiety. Yoga is an excellent, safe form of gentle exercise that combines movement with mindful breathing for extra effect.
Similarly, mindfulness can be very helpful when you are facing a distressing emotion. One way to stay mindful is labelling your emotions as they arise, for example saying to yourself, “my body is telling me that I am feeling frustrated/sad/angry”. This has been proven to reduce activity in the part of the brain that is thought to process fearful and threatening stimuli, in this study from 2007.
Whether you are coping with a recent loss or longstanding grief, stress or anxiety, yoga and mindfulness can be helpful tools that you can practice at home, at work or even outdoors – whenever you need them.