By: S. Celulari and L. Gilmartin
Yoga is way more than just a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline. Yoga is a lifestyle. It has the power to change your mood, body disposition and sleep through meditation, breathing exercises and postures. Once you adopt those habits to your daily routine, you’ll notice a clear difference in both your physical and mental health. It helps your body reach a deep state of relaxation reducing anxiety, stress and negative thoughts.
During quarantine many people have been facing anxiety and stress related issues because of the uncertainty of the virus. So, I asked Ms. Gilmartin, St Paul’s official yogi, to share a little of her yoga journey and hopefully convince you all to use it as a tool to release tension.
When did you first hear about yoga and what was your first impression of it?
In all honesty I can’t remember when I first heard about it....my mum did yoga for a long time, so I remember her going to classes and workshops when I was a kid. My first impression was, as someone who did a lot of ballet, that it was a long ballet warm up but without any of the dance part of it, so why would you do that?! Plus, there was the fact my mum did it – surely if one of your parents does something when you’re young, it can’t be fun or cool, can it?!
How has yoga changed your life? Mentally? Physically?
It always sounds very dramatic when people say something ‘completely’ changed their life, but it has had a significant impact. There wasn’t any thunderbolt or magical moment when everything become really clear (sorry!) but, over a long period of time, I did begin to realise that, physically, I was getting a lot of my strength back that I had developed when I was at school and did a lot of dancing. I also noticed that, when running, I was able to go further and recover quicker because, physically, my body was adapting and gaining both strength and suppleness. Mentally, again over a long period of time, I began to be able to identify changes in my mood or when I was starting to feel tired or irritated quicker and could start to use techniques to basically acknowledge that I felt rubbish and then try let it go. That’s something that I think I will probably be working on for the rest of my life, as I don’t find that naturally very easy!
How often do you meditate/take yoga classes?
On average I probably practice yoga 4-5 times a week – but that doesn’t mean I’m doing hardcore workouts that amount of times! I try and go to classes 2-3 times a week, but I also like to practice at home as well, even if it’s only for 20 minutes. Just having a bit of a stretch and being away from screens or work for a short period of time tends to make me feel a lot better and then I can go back to doing whatever I was doing before. Meditating I try to do a few times a week and, I will be honest, it is something I find challenging – my brain goes about a hundred miles a minute, so trying to turn the volume down on my thoughts is a real challenge for me, but a good one.
After many years of practice you’re now a qualified instructor. If you were to give beginners a tip, what would it be?
Most people say, “Yoga is boring”. How would you contradict this statement?
I think the idea of yoga equating to boredom is partially due to the view that in yoga you just sit with your eyes closed and either breathe on chat ‘om’ lots. Sure, there’s breathing and chanting (if that’s your thing…again, it’s not for everyone!) but actually, yoga does require quite a lot of inward concentration and focus – it’s about you and your body and what it can do. Also, we do live in a world where everything is super charged and immediate gratification and, because some of yoga is about stillness and maintaining postures that encourage the brain to slow down and become a bit quitter, it is something that seems to go against everything that happens in the world around us. Quite often, if you make the choice to do any form of physical conditioning (whether it’s yoga, the gym, running…) people often find time flies by because they’ve actively chosen to take time to focus on themselves.
Why does yoga relax you? Are there any theories behind it?
A lot of it depends on what type of yoga you choose to do – there’s more physical ones such as Ashtanga and Vinyasa, which have sequences and more movement, so feel more like a physical workout as well as the mental workout; it’s relaxing in the way that the body feels relaxed after a lot of different types of exercise – you’ve released tension, endorphins make you feel better and the brain feels more focused. Other ones, like Hatha (which is more gentle) or Yin (which is super slow and gentle and can result in people almost falling asleep it’s that gentle!) which focus on the breathing and holding gentle postures, it’s relaxing because all the cues you are giving your body are ones that are telling it to be still and calm. In terms of yogic philosophy, a huge emphasis is put on prana, which is the Sanskrit for ‘breath’. If you engage with the breathing as, ultimately, that is what yoga is about (the postures aren’t the main point), you will find one of the side effects is you relax; by breathing slower and more deeply, your stress and anxiety levels decrease as your nervous system gets the signal to calm down, your heart rate decreases, you lower the blood pressure, improve your circulation, relax your muscles…the physical elements go on and on.( I won’t go into yogic theories, as that can be a bit much, but the biological/physiological elements are obvious ones)
Sophia’s suggestion: Meditating is very hard. It takes time and a lot of patience to reach the appropriate level of relaxation and concentration. I would recommend starting off by using guided meditations. It can be podcasts; YouTube videos or Instagram lives. I personally prefer using the Zen app. In order to access all the different types of meditation you must pay an annual subscription. Zen is a meditation menu; it offers meditations with different goals/purposes and lengths. You’re able to pick the one that works best for you according to your mood and appointments. Try it out! Find the bond between your mind and your body!