Words: Rachael Chrystal
There are very few people who have been untouched by the change, uncertainty and fear that the pandemic has brought. This has had a huge impact on our mental well-being, with significant numbers reporting stress, anxiety and low mood associated with lockdown and COVID-19. Our usual exercise routines have been disrupted, meaning that lots of us are feeling the lack of physical activity and the resulting negative effect on our mental health.
This has led many people to look for ways to manage their psychological well-being as well as bring more movement into their day. As the lockdown restrictions are lifted, this brings new stresses and worries as we try to work towards a new normality, despite things being very different.
Never before has yoga been more needed – yoga provides us with the space and time to relax and connect with ourselves, as well as giving us some much needed time for physical movement. For me, time on my mat gives me time for my brain to unravel and lets me release the tension, fear and unknown of the ongoing situation through movement and my breath. It simultaneously gives me energy and helps me to calm my anxious thoughts.
The good news is that you can do yoga anywhere and you don’t need to get changed or gather any special equipment. You can use whatever time you have – starting with as little as 3 minutes – and you will notice the benefit to your physical and psychological well-being after just a few short sessions.
Yoga alone is not a cure for mental health difficulties and it is recommended that you also seek professional support via your GP or appropriate local services if you are struggling. Yoga can however be used alongside more traditional treatments to support good mental health.
Here are my tips for starting a home yoga practice, along with a simple but effective routine to settle your mind and gently move your body. This is suitable for beginners as well as seasoned yogis – the poses are still beneficial whether you are doing them for the 1st or the 1000th time. The sequence below will take 5-20 minutes depending on how long you choose to stay in each posture.
How to set up your space for yoga:
Ideally find a quiet, private space where you have space to move around. In an ideal world we would all have a luxury yoga studio adjoining our houses, but in the absence of this find a space that works for you – it most likely won’t be perfect but that’s ok. It’s nice to add a candle which you might light whenever you practice, or some plants – making the space inviting adds a certain sense of ceremony for when you do practice and can make it feel extra relaxing.
Use a yoga mat if you have one, or you can put a towel or rug down on the floor. A blanket and a cushion can be helpful to have handy to use to help you feel comfortable.
Grounding and arriving:
Start off by lying on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. You can place your hands on your belly. Breathe in and out through your nose gently, without forcing anything, just feeling what comes naturally. Continue to breathe here for a couple of minutes, closing your eyes if you wish.
This pose is great for bringing your attention back into the body and gently mobilising the spine. It is simple and quick and makes a huge difference to how your back feels!
Come onto your hands and knees, with your hands under shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.
Inhale and lift the tailbone and the chest, arching the back, feeling the collar bones open – this is “cow” pose. From here, exhale, rounding the spine, pushing the floor away with your hands, looking down at the floor, coming into “cat”.
Continue to move through cat and cow, guided by the breath for 10 repetitions.
Extended Child’s Pose:
This pose is my go to for whenever I need to switch off and focus on my breath. Because of the inward energy a Child’s Pose creates, it works really well for calming anxious thoughts. It’s also a good stretch for the back, shoulders and hips.
From your hands and knees, sit back onto your heels, with your forehead resting on the mat. Keep your arms outstretched in front of you, palms flat on the mat and feel a stretch under your shoulders. If your hips don’t easily rest back on your heels, placing a pillow or cushion under your hips can really help. Feel the breath move through the body and notice the upper back expanding with the inhale. Rest here for as long as you need – anywhere from 5 breaths to 15 minutes.
Downward Facing Dog:
A yoga staple, this is an energising pose which stretches out the whole body.
From extended Child’s Pose (above), come back up to all fours, then tuck your toes under, pressing through the hands and lift up your knees, coming into Downward Facing Dog. Bend your knees as much as you need to start with, keeping the back long. Once you are comfortable, straighten your legs, bringing the heels towards the floor. Gently roll the shoulders away from your ears and feel your shoulder blades down your back. Hold here for 3-5 breaths or longer if you feel comfortable. To come down, exhale, whilst bending your knees and lowering down to the floor.
If you have time, you can repeat the sequence up to this point so far as many times as you like, depending on how long you have to practice. Following this, move on to the below:
This pose helps to open the chest muscles and increases mobility in the spine, and is great if you have been on the laptop for too long.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hands resting by your sides. Inhale and tip your pelvis forward slightly, press through your feet and lift your hips as high as is comfortable. Hold here for 3-5 breaths, pressing through your feet and engaging your glute muscles to support your hips. Slowly lower down, rolling down each vertebra at a time.
Legs up the wall:
This pose is deeply restorative and rejuvenating perfect – just before bedtime or whenever you need a rest.
Sit sideways against a wall, then lie down and swing your legs up so that your legs are outstretched, your feet resting on the wall and your back is flat on the floor. Get your hips as close as is comfortable to the wall. Rest your hands at the side of your body or on your belly. Close your eyes and rest here for as long as is comfortable, up to 10 minutes.
Why not aim to try this sequence three times over the coming week? Commit to when you plan to do this in your diary at the start of the week, which will make you more likely to stick to your plan. Making a note of how you feel at the start and end of the session and any improvements can be helpful.
If you enjoyed this short sequence, please do get in touch and let us know how you got on.
Rachael Chrystal is the founder of Conscious Calm Yoga + Wellbeing. She helps individuals improve their health and wellbeing through an intuitive process using yoga and related practices and firmly believes that yoga is for all bodies regardless of ability or size. Rachael also works with corporate organisations to help them to develop the wellbeing and happiness of their staff and clients, as well as teaching specialist public yoga classes in Manchester (currently online). The rest of the time Rachael is busy working as an NHS GP, where her interest and expertise in helping people improve their health stems from.
For more information or to join one of Rachael’s online classes, go to: www.consciouscalm.co.uk