I was breathing too…

This is the second post in the Voices of the Pandemic series. Last time a teenager wrote about how lockdown had given the the space to think about what they really need. This week an experienced yoga teacher explores how personally and professionally her practice has been an anchor over the past months.

Conscious breathing for mind and body by Amanda Drago

I have just returned from a small break to The Lake District and the long reaching views were great for finding perspective and also reflecting on the last 5 months. 

On Sunday 15th March I taught a pilot Zoom class to my friends and other dance and yoga teachers to test out teaching online. Little did I realise that just over a week later all my work ceased overnight and I had to instantly adapt to the new situation we were all living in. This was an incredibly stressful time for me and for many others too. Launching my online Yoga class programme was my saving grace. Not only did it give me a timetable, it gave me structure to those endless weeks, it enabled me to connect with people but most importantly it forced me to keep up my yoga practice. Breathing is the biggest stress buster that I know and stress can be a major contributor to people’s mental health. In yoga we connect our breath and our movements so whilst I was telling others to breathe, I was breathing too.

In yoga breathing exercises are known as pranayama, the practice of controlling the breath, which is the source of our prana, or vital life force. Pranayama techniques that encourage a long smooth exhale are so beneficial as they encourage something known as the “relaxation response” which affects our autonomic nervous system.  

The autonomic nervous system is connected to physical processes such as digestion, respiration and heart rate. This system has two branches, the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic system.

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is our fight-or-flight response. It helps us to find energy to complete a task. In small doses, the SNS is essential, but when it goes into overdrive, the body and mind suffer. The prolonged high blood pressure caused by the fight-or-flight response can lead to digestive problems, cardiovascular disease, and anxiety. 

The other branch of the system is the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), often called the “rest and digest” or “calm and connect” system, which allows us to recoup from the stressors of life. If you find yourself breathing slowly and deeply, feeling a sense of calm and peacefulness, your PNS is activated, and your mind becomes more focused and still.
August is normally down time from teaching where you take stock, re-energise and plan for a new term in September. This year has not been a normal year so I have maintained my yoga classes over the Summer and beginning to start socially distant Face to Face classes in my barn whilst still offering them online. www.movewithamanda.co.uk

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