What’s your ideal coping mechanism for stress and anxiety? Maybe you want to go for a nice, long walk. Or take a warm bath. Or drink a bottle (or seven) of wine. Maybe you call your go-to friend for a therapeutic venting session. Venting can be theraputic too!
…or maybe you sit in a hot room (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) for 90 minutes, practicing small movements while you try to make it through the heat. Bikram Yoga is one of many yoga styles focusing on relaxation and meditation—and it doesn’t include headstands or pretzel-like poses. Contrary to popular belief, maintaining a yoga practice doesn’t require intense flexibility, balance or strength.
“It sounds weird, but when you walk out, it’s an instant wave of relief and relaxation,” said Luna of Hug the World Yoga. “When I leave a Bikram class, I feel amazing. It feels like the best thing ever.”
Luna, an avid yoga connoisseur, has been practicing and teaching for several years—and she wishes she started earlier. From Pennsylvania, California, Korea, Thailand and China, to an upcoming training in Indonesia, Luna has experienced various styles of yoga... even kids’ yoga! While physical fitness is an added bonus, yoga has provided significant emotional healing for Luna, who often struggles with anxiety.
“Before I started yoga, I had my body and then I had my brain,” explains Luna. “They were separate. My brain was always thinking and my body was just… there, doing what it was pushed to do. But when I started doing yoga, everything became connected. I would notice how I was feeling emotionally or mentally, just from my yoga practice. There were some days where I practiced yoga and couldn’t really do anything, because I was exhausted. Without yoga, I hadn’t even realized how stressed I was.”
Our bodies know things that our brains sometimes haven’t figured out yet. Your body will tell you when it’s time for a break even when your brain keeps saying “go, go go!” Consistent yoga practice can help us to become more in tune with our bodies and minds and respond appropriately. Hip opener poses do just that.
“Hip openers are all about emotions,” said Luna. “A lot of people cry when they do them—I did too! I cried so much during my first two years of yoga whenever I did really intense hip openers. I feel like that was really healing because whatever was built up inside of me was being released. I probably still don’t even know what it was, but it’s out now. My body knows things that my brain doesn’t know.”
Yoga’s positive mantras have helped to change the way Luna thinks, even outside of her yoga practice.
“I started a mantra in yoga class where I would put my thumbs against my heart and just think ‘I am love.’ It was always on repeat: ‘Love. Love. Love.’” She had been through some difficult times, and wanted to activate her heart chakra, which is known in the yoga world as the center of the human energy, love and compassion. “I tried to radiate that love in various ways, and I would find myself feeling more love toward other people and toward myself.”
Luna has also witnessed the healing power of yoga with her students, even after just one class.
“People would come in after a day of work, rigid and not smiling. They might chat with people before class, but not in an authentic way,” said Luna. “By the end of the class, though, you could feel that the energy was way up and people were super chilled out, positive and happy.”
“One woman, who had a really stressful job, even came up to me after class and was really happy and glowing,” continued Luna. “She said she felt like she had just taken ten Xanax!”
The stories continue.
“I taught sunset yoga for three months each summer,” said Luna. “We would finish by going into savasana (ultimate relaxation mode) right after sunset, and then most people would hang out afterward and watch the rest of the sunset… there was this one girl who came every week, but left right at the end of class. She chain-smoked and drank a lot of coffee and was full of nervous energy. Just constantly moving. But at the end of the summer, she came up to me and said: ‘I just feel so positive! I’ve never felt this mellowed out.’ She had never done yoga before, and it made her want to change her nonstop busy lifestyle.”
Those of us who manage to fit yoga into our schedules often do just that: fit it into our schedule, practice the poses, and move on. However, when yoga first started in India, it was used as a vehicle to prepare for meditation; it was a means to calm the mind. While there are many different styles and focuses of yoga, they can all be used to improve mental and emotional health.
“A lot of people think they can’t do yoga because they’re not physically capable,” said Luna. “But it’s so much more mental than physical. You can even just lay on the floor for a while and do a couple of poses and listen to the music and smell the oils and just… check in with yourself."
For example, you could take a Yin class and simply do the same four poses very slowly for an hour. In some ways, these styles of yoga are even better for the mind.
She goes on to say “it’s a form of meditation while still releasing from parts of your body,” said Luna. “A misconception is that you have to flow really fast and do all of the poses in one session. You don’t have to do 25 poses per class; you don’t have to do a perfect pose for Instagram to love and benefit from yoga.”
“Any style of yoga is beneficial, no matter what point you’re at,” continued Luna. “It’s just supposed to make you feel good and happy. That’s the point. It’s not about what you can do physically. Yoga is a way to get there mentally, where you are content and at peace. That’s how I look at it.”
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