The Yoga Women’s Workshop focused on nurturing, restorative and quietly energising asana sequences in the context of an ongoing personal practice. It was great to be sharing the experience with a group of women of varying ages from a variety of life situations; to connect and get to know familiar and unfamiliar faces to varying degrees. Personally, I love any opportunity to talk to other women about work, motherhood, childbirth, hormones and general existential strategies for managing the embodied experience of being a woman in the 21st Century, and some of this was covered in the workshop. The practice and discussions were very relevant and informative and there was much good will and enthusiasm generated by all the participants. I really enjoyed getting to know some more women in my yoga community a little bit better because it makes regular weekly classes even more meaningful.
One thing that stands out for me from the weekend is that I gained a new conscious understanding of how asana practice, and asana sequences can be fine-tuned to modulate specific energetic or emotional states. We usually take for granted that a yoga class is “calming,” (unless we are feeling physically or emotionally unsafe or inadequate), but what I noticed consciously during the workshop is that there are different qualities of calm: a deeply relaxed calm that might put you into deep, refreshing sleep, or an energised, focused, productive calm that enables you to get a lot done. And while some of the sequences for anxiety and insomnia soothe down the sympathetic nervous system for a good night sleep etc, depression or a milder state of lack of energy, focus and motivation may actually require that the nervous system is activated, but activated in another way than just more diffused stress. I had my own epiphany about energised calm through supported back bend, which is probably completely obvious to experienced yogis, but felt great to me.
Although I am not depressed at the moment, I have noticed in the last few weeks, practicing the workshop depression sequence at home, that supported backbends and chest opening postures have prevented mild exhaustion & general lack of motivation from spiralling into lumpen paralysing inertia. It is very clear that asanas and asana sequences can be used subtle physical tools that enable the mind to access alternative mental states, which is of course why I come away from my bi-weekly classes so happy, focused, calm and energised – it is not just the savasana meditation or that I am fixing the pain in my right hip – I am accessing and dwelling in brain states of clarity and well-being and inoculating myself against old habitual brain states of depression.
So as Helen says, “the body is the mind”. My Yoga practice has become the practice of “I am embodied, therefore I am.” Not as in “my ego identifies with this perfect body”, but that I am grounded, connected and aware of my body as the means to my mental health and existential well-being. The Women’s Workshop reinforced for me that we need to work with who we are right now, in general and on any given day, and practice radical acceptance of ourselves and our particular situation.
Having the yoga sequences for depression, anxiety and insomnia in a concise, contained and incremental booklet at my finger tips at home feels like an invaluable resource. We all reported sleeping deeply on Saturday night after the insomnia sequence, and I practised calming and energising daily before a job interview last week. It went well.
In addition to the yoga and pranayama sessions, the naturopath sessions were very informative about what environmental pollutants are xeno-hormones/endocrine disruptors and how they disrupt our own natural hormone production and regulation. I have a lovely little image in my mind of hormone receptor sites and how green leafy vegetables clean then out; and I have a list of what I can do to minimise endocrine disruptors so that fewer actually enter the body. I have gained some insight into the role of the liver in regulating hormones, and am therefore more personally motivated to limit sugar and alcohol.
To finish up, last week I came across a quote by Abraham Maslow that dovetailed into what I was thinking about. Here it is with my additions:
“I can feel guilty about the past (neglect, mistreatment of my body), apprehensive about the future (fear of aging, menopause), but only in the present I can act. (Yoga) The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” (Yoga)
- Elaine Campaner 2014