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What I didn’t know about yoga and it’s effect on my mental health.

This article has been published as part of the Bravely contributor program, it is written by Chia Sihan.

After close to two decades of attending yoga classes, I finally found the reason why doing yoga made a difference to my wellbeing. Surprisingly, not all has to do with figuring out how to contort myself into a human pretzel…

In today’s context where mindfulness has gotten more prominent, the idea of doing yoga to de-stress may seem like an obvious idea by now. Yet to attribute yoga merely as a stress reliever is not quite doing it justice. Personally, it was only after undergoing a teacher’s training course that I started to appreciate the deeper effects on mental wellness that differentiates regular yoga practice from other forms of exercise.

My foray into yoga began when I was a teenager, where I attended my first yoga lesson with my Mum just for fun. There were certainly limitations and discomfort, as I wasn’t the most flexible person around. Little did I know that it would be the start of a lifelong journey that is at times challenging, rewarding, and humbling.

Start with your breath

Breathing is part of the practice to pull the senses and wandering thoughts back into the present

For anyone who’s ever stepped into a yoga class, it almost always starts with your breathing.

By deliberately slowing down and focusing on deepening every inhalation and exhalation, what we are essentially doing is sending signals to our brain (and body). Through a series of mindful breaths, we’re telling our parasympathetic nervous system (which governs homeostasis and is sometimes referred to as the “rest and digest system) , “You’re in a safe place now, it’s time to relax and really tune in to your body.”

Yoga is not about perfect postures, but doing what’s best for your body

On the other hand, when we perform a sequence of dynamic yoga postures (asanas), we’re activating the sympathetic nervous system, sending more energy, blood, and oxygen to the different parts of our bodies. The senses are heightened, breathing gets shallow. At the end of class, we lie back on the mat for deep rest, restoring calm and relieving any residual tension from our bodies.

Activating your “inner-net” instead of constant connectivity

Take a snap and enjoy the moment, instead of rushing to post on social media

In the course of studying to be a yoga teacher, I learned from Dr Shivani about the concept of the inner self (atman in Sanskrit) and how it comprises five layers. Without going into too much technicality, each of the five layers represents the journey of self-realisation based on the energy and human consciousness.

For me, it was interesting to note that the mind (Manomaya kosa) and wisdom or power of discrimination (Vijnanamaya kosa) are two distinct layers. What I interpret from the distinction — without cultivating wisdom through reflection and discipline, an intellectual being may not have the wisdom to choose the right course of action in any situation.

Distractions will always be there

The mobile was meant to help us communicate, not distract

According to the Hindu scriptures, Bhagavad Gita, “Yoga holds the senses steady”. In our world of connectivity and always-on culture, for many of us, the monkey brain is going into overdrive. With so many distractions and thoughts going through our mind, the only thing left to do is to master it.

This is where yoga has played a significant role in helping me to focus and disconnect from distractions. Where I was once easily frazzled by overlapping deadlines, regular yoga practice has taught me to laser focus on the task at hand and recognise the importance of frequent short breaks.

However big or small our goals may be, to achieve what we want is to first be honest and recognise how we are setting ourselves up for failure or success. Too often when we set goals, we forget to look back and celebrate how far we’ve come. For me, acknowledging baby steps gives me the momentum to keep chipping away at my goals, which I feel is the true power of mindfulness.

About Bravely

This article was written for Bravely by one of our awesome contributors. Bravely is a holistic and evidence-based approach to mental well-being — find calm when you’re distressed, and bravely work towards a healthier, happier mind. Launching in 2020, sign up below!

About Chia Sihan:

After five years of writing for the Singapore Press Holdings Magazines, Sihan took on various content planning and management roles in tourism and lifestyle industries.

An avid travel lover, she is working on content strategy for a travel startup and has completed a Yoga Alliance-certified 200-hour yoga instructor training course.

She has also done freelance writing for publications including CLEO, L’Officiel, and The Fashion Collective Singapore.

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Rackley

Rackley

Kiwi, outdoor lover, hobby photographer, occasional writer & co-founder of Bravely — a holistic and evidence based mental health app: bravely.io