Yoga for beginners by a beginner (and tips on how to use it for your mental health)

11:18:00 AM

Can you see the frames showing my struggle to get to a handstand?
Hey hey beautiful people, 

Today is one of those days for me, mental health wise so to get myself in the mood, I did some stretches as captured above and since it also happens to be International Yoga Day, I decided to share how my practice has been helping me and also 'show off' some my fav poses so far. On Day 75 of my never ending #100daysofmentalhealth challenge, I talked about Physical, Mental and Spiritual stretches - with yoga featuring on the physical stretch part of the post. I also mentioned that my yoga challenge for the year is to get to a hand stand which I am slowly but surely working towards, and enjoying the journey to it. 

Before I embraced yoga, I used to look at it with very suspiciously but some things you just have to experience to understand.  There are various forms of yoga (with hard Indian names ok not so hard but different names) but in this post, I will mention my top three (in plain English), outlining how they help me and my mental health


1. Stretches and poses type of yoga, which I think I am getting better at day by day as I journey to do a hand stand. Before getting into my own practice, I had done a few sessions with other people who practice like my friend Z does it on the daily so all my sleep overs at her place had yoga wake up calls, when I was in San Francisco, my hosts had membership at a studio there so we went for sessions. I have never signed up for a class though I almost did in December but then travel happened. So I got myself into a challenge which just opened me up to the beauty of meeting the various stretches and poses at your own pace. My best so far is the pigeon pose, I also love the king dancer pose aka standing pulling pose because of the balance element which I discovered if I concentrate on my breathing, I balance better for longer. Having a routine that both stretches me and challenges me helps awaken my mind. I felt this most during my Akili ni Mali tour across Kenya where I did my yoga almost everyday. It really helped my body relax in the new environments when I was hopping from county to county and also release tension after my speaking which involved pouring out of myself and having intimate one on one sit down sessions where people shared things they kept saying that they had never shared with anyone before. 

To try this out: you might need a mat, some comfortable clothes and sort of guidance either through a physical or online class or good old Youtube just to get you started. Some poses when done wrongly can bring more harm than good

2. The breathing and listening to your inhaling and exhaling type of yoga, I love this one, it does wonders in slowing the mind especially for those of us with anxiety. It helps me analyse things and situations I consider threats which is what happens when I get into panic, everything and everyone feels like a threat and I can't think or talk and I start sweating and my hands start shaking. But reminding myself to slowly inhale and exhale and be present and that I am in change and that I am one with the flow of air in and out of my nostrils really helps. Also when I am about to public speak, this helps a lot to just centre myself. When I do it outside the panic - anxiety space, it always makes me grateful to feel, hear, experience, see myself breathing, one of the things we always take for granted. I learnt this really well while at Amani, we had a class on mindfulness and the facilitator took time to do practical breathing sessions which worked wonders. 

To try this out: just sit with your back up straight, close your eyes (I like doing it with my eyes closed) and concentrate on your breathing. At first it is tricky because your mind wants to think about other things and will constantly remind you how stupid it is to just concentrate on your inhaling and exhaling but if you give it time and more practice, it is very rewarding. 


3. The meditation side of yoga (which sometimes involves chants and recitation) which I personally use with my Bible study, just speaking back to God His words and promises. Since we are in 2017, I have my alarm clock set for 20:17 were for 17 minutes, I shut down everything and meditate...in my mind, I go through the day, I go through the Bible reading I did earlier that day, I just speak God's words to Him, I express my gratitude for the day and the moment. 17 means victory, so I also go through wins and expected wins...and it's just an amazing 17 minutes. Some people use candles to concentrate, others have mats and scents, others use objects (I know this is where it gets tricky for people) while other incorporate sounds like oceans or birds or recitations. For me meditation is like taking the inhaling and exhaling a notch higher, whereas the focus was on breathing, now it is on a passage which I am giving my all and opening up to its response. This has helped me with a lot of clarity on projects and relationships, my time and energy...it gives me more control because I set out of it all, find my standing before I get back...I feel more proactive as opposed to being reactive. 

To try this out: you might need to learn the basics of meditation which can be found in a lot of mindfulness book or videos or class and or yoga related literature. 

Have you tried any  type of yoga? What was the experience like? 

PS: this Friday, as part of the International Day Against Drug Abuse ( IDADA) Activities, the University of Nairobi will host a yoga session from 11-12p at their grounds among a host of other activities geared towards awareness on drug/substance abuse and where to get support.

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