A new start

AN ANX­I­ETY SUFFERER DIS­COV­ERS YOGA THER­APY

Good Health Choices - - Contents -

It’s 6am and pitch black out­side. But I don’t need an alarm to get go­ing. In fact, I ditched it two years ago. In­stead, most days, my body wakes at this time nat­u­rally. I wig­gle my fin­gers and toes, then slowly start breath­ing: in for four counts, out for eight. I con­cen­trate only on my breath, the rise and fall of my di­aphragm and ex­tend­ing the ex­ha­la­tion – feel­ing a sense of ra­di­ant vi­bra­tion through­out my en­tire body.

After 10-20 of th­ese long, slow breaths, I roll onto my side, get out of bed and walk into the lounge. I light a tea light can­dle in my Hi­malayan salt holder or burn a lit­tle bit of in­cense to clear the en­ergy in the room, make a hot cup of tea, un­roll my yoga mat, sit on a bol­ster and con­tinue with my breath­ing. I take a big in­hale, put my thumbs to my fore­head and hum qui­etly, feel­ing the sound vi­bra­tions through my head. I in­hale, fold up my tongue and ex­hale. Then I in­hale, re­lax my lips and start pump­ing my di­aphragm as I ex­hale 30 times.

OIL AND SALT

After th­ese breath­ing ex­er­cises (known as pranayama, which means ‘to ex­tend the vi­tal life force’), I head to the shower and dry-brush my body to help get my cir­cu­la­tion go­ing and re­move tox­ins. Then I mas­sage a cou­ple of slugs of sesame oil all over my body be­fore jump­ing in.

When I get out, I clean my teeth, scrape my tongue and do a nasal cleanse. This in­volves adding luke­warm wa­ter and a pinch of salt to a cop­per neti pot that’s hang­ing out my bath­room win­dow. I pour half the wa­ter into one nos­tril and half the wa­ter into the other nos­tril be­fore gen­tly blow­ing my nose.

The idea of this cleanse is you flush out what­ever’s in your si­nuses – boost­ing the im­mune sys­tem be­cause the germs aren’t hang­ing about, bal­anc­ing hor­mones and crys­tallis­ing your thoughts.

A CHER­ISHED ROU­TINE

Post-shower, I warm up with some sun salutes and move through a se­ries of ground­ing yoga poses. From there, I get my­self into a comfy po­si­tion and be­gin a short med­i­ta­tion. I re­cite a mantra in San­skrit and use a string of mala beads to help me stay fo­cused on the chant in my head.

Once med­i­ta­tion is done, I bow my head and give thanks for the day. I dress and head to the kitchen to make a hot bowl of por­ridge, and once that’s de­voured I’m off to my of­fice to write.

For the past two years, I’ve worked hard to make this morn­ing rou­tine my pri­or­ity be­cause it’s helped me thrive after years of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing de­bil­i­tat­ing anx­i­ety. Known as yoga ther­apy, this com­bi­na­tion of yoga, med­i­ta­tion, breath work and Ayurveda (the an­cient In­dian sys­tem of medicine – see box on the next page) fo­cuses on the in­di­vid­ual achiev­ing a dy­namic state of bal­ance be­tween mind, body and en­vi­ron­ment.

TELL-TALE SIGNS

“The whole idea with yoga is we’re bring­ing the body and mind to a place of still­ness. In to­day’s world, there’s a real pose-re­lated iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with yoga, but we need to change the con­cept of that idea,” ex­plains yoga ther­a­pist Van­dana Stead­man. “Yoga is ac­tu­ally about bring­ing to­gether the essence of a per­son – mind, body, emo­tions, wis­dom and what cre­ates in­nate hap­pi­ness.”

That’s why dur­ing her ini­tial con­sul­ta­tions, Van­dana spends time ob­serv­ing and lis­ten­ing for ‘tells’ as to the state of a client’s body and mind. One per­son may have un­usu­ally dry skin. Some­one else, poor di­ges­tion.

“When you first ar­rived, we started chat­ting, but while we were talk­ing, I was look­ing at things such as what your skin is like, how dry your lips are, and ask­ing if you felt like you had ‘an in­con­sis­tency of mind’,” says Van­dana. “I was look­ing at the qual­ity of your func­tions.”

Need­less to say, when I pitched up for my first con­sul­ta­tion at the Yoga Ther­apy Cen­tre, I was a mess. I’d spent the two years prior re­ally strug­gling – wracked with anx­i­ety, of­ten on the verge of tears, and had a ner­vous sys­tem as frayed as an old woollen blan­ket. But although

I’d found a lit­tle relief by go­ing to an Iyen­gar yoga class once a week at Four Winds Yoga and prac­tis­ing at home, I’d never heard of yoga ther­apy. That was un­til I turned up one day to in­ter­view Van­dana for a lo­cal busi­ness story.

As soon as she be­gan an­swer­ing my ques­tions about her work, I knew I’d chanced upon a treat­ment that might help me shift the core is­sues re­lated to my anx­i­ety. Keen to give it a go, I signed up for a six-week pro­gramme on the spot.

Be­fore my first con­sul­ta­tion, I was asked to fill out a ques­tion­naire about how I felt phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally in spe­cific sit­u­a­tions and to bring it along to my first ses­sion at Van­dana’s Auck­land ashram. The body and mind’s re­la­tion­ship to the five el­e­ments of fire, earth, air, wa­ter and wind is of vi­tal im­por­tance in yoga ther­apy.

Van­dana ex­plains: “The first thing we do is look at every­thing in re­la­tion to the five el­e­ments. Th­ese are the source of who we are. Each of the chal­lenges is a symp­tom that one of th­ese el­e­ments is out of bal­ance.”

Ayurveda also ad­dresses each in­di­vid­ual’s unique blue­print of physical, emo­tional and spir­i­tual char­ac­ter­is­tics by typ­i­fy­ing be­hav­iours, thoughts and ac­tions into three doshas (mind-body types). Th­ese doshas are known as vata, pitta and kapha and are de­rived from the five el­e­ments.

The whole idea with Ayurveda is that we have a ten­dency to one or two dosha and if we don’t eat, move, cleanse and heal in ways that are com­ple­men­tary to keep­ing th­ese doshas in bal­ance, we end up with men­tal and physical ill­nesses, or a com­bi­na­tion of both.

“Vata is air and space, and be­cause you were suf­fer­ing from anx­i­ety, it rep­re­sents an im­bal­ance in air. The re­quire­ment with anx­i­ety is to pacify the vata – to bring down the qual­i­ties of air,” ex­plains Van­dana. “When we have too much vata, our skin is dry, knob­bly and rough, and we may feel ir­ra­tional.”

TAI­LORED THER­APY

In my case, Van­dana knew I needed prac­tices that would help nour­ish and sup­port me on a daily ba­sis. “You were al­ready feel­ing over­whelmed, so we want to cre­ate a pro­gramme based around ground­ing prin­ci­ples that are de­signed to re­lease any sur­face ten­sion.”

Van­dana is also able to match each yoga ther­apy tech­nique to in­di­vid­u­als, de­vel­op­ing a unique pro­gramme to fit with their life­style. “Every tool you use in yoga ther­apy – from poses to the food you eat to the chants you re­cite dur­ing med­i­ta­tion – has a spe­cific rhythm. For ex­am­ple, when you med­i­tate, Vedic mantras are de­signed to be said at a cer­tain beat,” she ex­plains.

“With yoga ther­apy, there is a col­lec­tion of tech­niques, but it’s like cook­ing with a spice box. All th­ese spices are there and you don’t need to use all of them, but get­ting them to work to­gether in har­mony is what re­quires the knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Van­dana knew that as a health and nutri­tion jour­nal­ist, I spend most of my days writ­ing about food (and now yoga!), so that’s where she started. “Rou­tine eat­ing wasn’t some­thing you were do­ing and it was re­ally im­por­tant for your well­be­ing. That’s why we got you to eat a hot bowl of oats at 7.30am and a sub­stan­tial lunch at 12.30pm be­fore hav­ing a lighter meal at 6.30pm.”

Van­dana de­signed a se­ries of ground­ing yoga poses and en­cour­aged me to stick to this same prac­tice for six weeks. She asked me to ditch the co­conut oil I was us­ing as body mois­turiser and re­place it with sesame oil. Co­conut has prop­er­ties

‘The body and mind’s re­la­tion­ship to the el­e­ments of fire, earth, air, wa­ter and wind

is of vi­tal im­por­tance in yoga ther­apy’

After the first two weeks of the pro­gramme, I felt alive

and en­er­gised

of vata – it’s dry­ing – and I didn’t need any­thing mak­ing my skin more parched than it al­ready was, caus­ing my im­bal­ance to be­come worse. Van­dana also en­cour­aged me to spend a few min­utes re­ally mas­sag­ing the oil into my body be­fore get­ting in the shower.

THE LIFE­STYLE FAC­TOR

“The touch part of the equa­tion is so im­por­tant when it comes to bal­anc­ing an air im­bal­ance be­cause we treat each el­e­ment as to how you feel it. You only know about air be­cause it touches your skin. When you bring air down by touch­ing your skin, your mind be­comes fo­cused. You pacify the el­e­ment by do­ing the op­po­site,” says Van­dana.

“How­ever, if you had kids, I might not ap­proach it the same way be­cause ask­ing you to do self-mas­sage be­fore a shower in the morn­ing is out of the ques­tion and doesn’t work with that life­style.

“It re­ally de­pends on the per­son and where I can help cre­ate th­ese reg­u­la­tions in their life. For ex­am­ple, if you’re re­ally shaky and un­grounded, then I’ll mas­sage you my­self to help ground you. Yoga ther­apy is about find­ing some­thing that fits with your rou­tine and putting in the tools that nur­ture you. That’s what

I love about it – I get to be cre­ative with every­thing I have at my dis­posal.”

Lit­tle did I know just how ef­fec­tive th­ese prac­tices would be in teach­ing me how to man­age my emo­tions and al­low­ing my mind to find the peace I was so desperately seek­ing. After the first two weeks of the pro­gramme, I felt alive and en­er­gised. The ‘shak­ing’ in my brain had stopped and I was no longer burst­ing into tears at ran­dom in­ter­vals. By week six, my hus­band couldn’t believe how ef­fec­tive the pro­gramme had been. I was a changed hu­man.

WELL ARMED

Two years on and I’ve de­vel­oped my prac­tice as my needs have changed, but I re­main in reg­u­lar con­tact with Van­dana. Through her work­shops and pro­grammes, I’ve also learned more tech­niques to add to my yoga-ther­apy tool kit and I’m about to em­bark on a yo­gic detox for spring.

The cool thing with yoga ther­apy is once you’ve got the tools, you can build your own self-re­spon­si­bil­ity. And as time goes on, no mat­ter how busy I be­come, I know if I stick to my daily rou­tines, my anx­i­ety rarely, if ever, rears its head.

It’s like treat­ing any con­di­tion. I know I have to be con­sis­tent and that it’s the lit­tle choices I make each day that add up to a health­ier, hap­pier me.

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