Now, perhaps more than ever before, the work that we do as yoga practitioners, as students and also as teachers is being researched, recognised and even highly regarded by modern science.
It's one of the reasons why many people are now seeking out local yoga and meditation classes; what some of us yogis have known and experienced for some time as either part of a physical activity, a complimentary therapy or as a lifestyle is known to improve our mental health. In today's modern society we deal with a number of external stressors everyday that cause us a great deal of stress and anxiety. And the truth is it doesn't matter whether you're a 7 year old school kid or a 70 year old retiree, our mental health matters. 10 or 15 years ago we were not openly discussing our mental state of mind, whereas today we see it on par with our physical and emotional health as a more wholistic approach to our individual wellbeing.
Thanks to science, mindfulness and meditation are now far more mainstream than ever before. According to an article published online by Scientific American in June 2014:
MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain's “fight or flight” center, the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is involved in the initiation of the body's response to stress.
And while reducing stress is usually the main reason and or benefit for beginning a meditation practice, it's just the tip of the iceberg so to speak. Studies have shown that regular meditation improves cognitive function thereby reducing age-related illness, as well as relieving anxiety-related issues around social anxiousness and obsessive-compulsive disorders. For those who suffer from depression, regular meditation helps create a more positive outlook and enhances our self-awareness.
And while the research is clear, there's often a lot of myth, assumption and even expectation around what meditation IS or how it should be done. And the truth is that it's so much easier than you might think it is!
The physical practice of yoga asana can sometimes be a great place to start - establishing an awareness of our breathing patterns and moving our body in and out of postures according to our breath is very much a moving meditation - the physicality helps to anchor our awareness IN our bodies while giving our mind something to 'do'. According to the 8 limbed path of yoga, asana was traditionally practiced as a way to limber up the mind and body to sit in meditation for extended periods of time.
Once we arrive in stillness the challenge presents itself - as is the nature of the mind - it goes CRAZY or does it?! It seems as though a million thoughts appear all at once, as if from nowhere. But as we sit in stillness, our job is not 'to do' but rather 'to be' - to observe, to notice and to be curious about what arises in our own unique internal landscape. I'll often think of it as watching your favourite movie - over and over again - and each time you notice something new, perhaps a subtle nuance that you never noticed before - as you sit, on a cushion, or in a chair - in stillness. At first, the thoughts seem to come at the speed of light, some days more so than others - but with practice, with time and with commitment we can start to make space, to feel and most importantly witness the beauty of sitting in stillness.
After more than 10 years of teaching mostly asana based yoga, it's been both refreshing and a revelation to witness meditation become more mainstream and less woo-woo. While it's a practice that is certainly attainable on it's own, we have integrated meditation into our popular YIN + Meditation by Candlelight yoga class Wednesday evenings at 630pm, as well as our Women's Wellness Series: Moon Flow + Meditation on Monday nights. Each of these classes include pranayama and supported floor-based yin and restorative postures to prepare the mind and the body for the experience of meditation or 'sitting still'.
Join us and watch what happens!