Week One: Developing Mental Strength with Yoga

For the month of May, undertake this challenge with me to develop mental strength.  I will profile one pose each week.  The idea is that each week for the month you will practice a specific pose.  On a physical level you will agin the opportunity to become more aware of your body in the pose and certain areas that require attention.  On a mental level, we will work over the course of the month, to direct our focus in an effort to develop greater mental strength.

Mental strength can enable us to feel stress in the mind and act with focus rather than avoiding or hindering our progress in a reaction to stress.  Mental strength can enable us to make positive choices, to act in our best interests in tough situations, it can enable us with the strength to have power over sensual desires such as another piece of chocolate or another cigarette or another glass of wine...With greater mental strength we can feel stable through the ebbs and flows of our external environments and feel steady and grounded.  Mental strength can provide us with the skills to maintain focus in challenging situations e.g. in an exam or on an assignment, in a challenging interview or in a sporting environment, to not allow ourselves to become distracted and maintain our focus on a specific task.

WEEK ONE: This weeks pose is Virabhadrasana 1 or Warrior 1 pose.

Warrior 1.jpg

Each week try out the pose suggested or even as you practice the pose in a class bring the following activity to mind;

SET UP:

Take the form of Warrior 1 pose, encourage your front knee in the direction of your front toes and have weight equally spread over your back foot which is turned in 15 degrees.  Lengthen your arms and engage your navel towards your spine, hips are encouraged square to the front of the mat.  For a more detailed outline of the physicality of this pose, follow here

Choose a length of time to undertake the pose that will inject some stress i.e. 2-5 minutes

1. INTENTION-encourage your intention to keep attention on what your body is doing-breathing, relaxing into the pose, and encouraging proper form.

2. WITNESS- notice when your attention shifts from doing to thinking.  Your mind may create doubts about your ability to continue holding the pose.

3. DELAY- Dont react to the doubts.  Rather, stay in the pose with the stress and delay reacting. This allows space for awareness to develop.

4. DISSOCIATE OR REDIRECT ATTENTION- Coach yourself back to your intention and keep attention on your bodes process.

5. FIND LITTLE WAYS TO ENGAGE-Keep attention engaged in your body by making subtle shifts in posture or transferring weight for one leg to the other.

Throughout this exercise, we are trying to introduce the distraction of stress.  What distracting thoughts did you become aware of? Were you able to create a focus such as looking towards a spot on the wall or listening to a song to escape the stress?  Stress can be a major distraction of our attention in any challenging situation.  By witnessing your minds desire to escape stress, delaying this reaction and redirecting attention to your body, you can learn to process stress and stay committed.

Take notes on your experience, feel free to contact me and let me know how you are getting on and any questions you have.

 

Body Image-The Sexy Lie

Below is an interesting Ted talk I came across addressing the issue of Body Image or rather sexualised body images portrayed in the media and the effects on mostly women. This honest article also reviews this talk and the issues raised.

These issues can be at times delicate among women and often kept private as many try to hide their insecurities or how they really feel.

The point I find interesting that she mentions is where we need to raise girls (and also females in general) to see bodies as tools for mastering our environment.  When I first joined the mountaineering and climbing club in University I remember that I enjoyed hillwalking and the other activities so much.  I remember thinking that during those activities, I was so proud of my body for accomplishing things, I was out of my head for a while, out of thinking etc and just enjoying the activity and feeling healthy.  When I started Yoga, I had a similar experience in some of my first classes and on top of that I saw and remember clearly thinking how everyone in the room was equal, we could all enjoy movement, we could all have our own learning experiences and what we looked like or what size we were didn't really matter.  In both these experiences in my life, I came to see and use my body as a tool to master my environment and I became proud of all the great things about my body.

I am vulnerable at times like many females into falling into negative thought patterns with regard to image, but through activities in my life I have learnt to let go of these thoughts and mostly not have them in the first place!

Im sure this discussion on body image perception could be debated forever, what is important is to observe the thoughts for yourself.  As yoga encourages, observe, ask yourself 'Do these thoughts serve me?', 'Are they of value?'.  As Caroline Heldman mentions in her talk, self esteem is not a finite resource, we do not need to compete for it and we certainly don't need to feel as if you will never have it.  

I know in my own experience that the more I enjoy using my body in activities, the less I worry about what it looks like, or if someone else looks better etc etc.  The body given to us is ours forever, ENJOY it, rather than berate it.  

There are a lot of fun things in life your body can be used for, not to mention your thoughts! If one is constantly consumed by and feels all their worth, all their value is based on how they look then the measurement system is very skewed.  If you feel you are less worthy or less valuable because of you look, then again the measurement system you are using is skewed.

Value of oneself must take into account the whole picture, an individual is more than just an image.

Stripped of an image, stripped of your position on your career ladder, stripped of material possessions and even relationships, ask yourself what is there left to value? When you value this, then you will experience much greater peace and contentment.

Stepping outside your comfort zone

Over the last few days I took part in an Acro Yoga course being run in Dublin.  I am so happy I signed up for this course, I met really nice people, had a lot of laughs and learned lots of new ways to move my body.  (click on the pictures below to see!)

Doing new things gives us an opportunity to step outside our comfort zone, to venture into the unknown. These opportunities present us with far more lessons than we originally perceived and if we stay open and receptive, the gifts we can receive are infinite.

Being a 'bit' of a perfectionist by nature and wanting to feel like I'm doing things well, the acro yoga has taught me a lot about letting go.  I found myself a lot over the few days, thinking 'ok how do i get this move right? or 'How should I do this perfectly?' I was reminded of a quote I read a few months ago...

'When perfectionism is driving us, shame is riding shotgun and fear is that annoying backseat driver'! Brene Brown

This can happen all of us in different situations, but joy and ease can only truly be attained by letting go of fear, by releasing inhibitions and judgements and just doing!

In the Acro Yoga movements, it was only by doing, by thinking less and letting go, by throwing myself in at the deep end that I could give my body and mind a chance to perceive the possible.

Im not fully there yet, but I realise that once we have mastered one aspect of learning, be it in Yoga or other sports or hobbies, there will always be another level and it is only through the joyful experience of learning and making mistakes that we can progress further. 

Yet another realm where we must let go of the ego and learn to be a beginner again,  and then enjoy that part, soak it in, when things are new and the possibilities are endless!