Ava McBride, MSW, CSW
As I begin 2021, I will be completing my Certified Yoga Teacher (CYT) Certification. As a therapist, I am always on the lookout for complimentary tools that help clients find greater health and well-being. Yoga has proven to be a great resource that fits this need well too. In fact, studies have shown the positive impact exercise can have on mental health. The endorphins released after a long hike or yoga session gave me the same energy, the same energy I remember experiencing at the end of a middle school dance. Most importantly, yoga has shown me how to connect and remain connected to my mind, body, and breath. As a therapist and yoga instructor, I want to share how my personal journey on the mat has allowed me to be a better therapist and understand the impacts of our physical state on our mental well-being.
When someone experiences anxiety their breathing can become shallow, quick breaths in and even shorter exhales. John Luckovich, an apprentice Integrative Breathwork facilitator in Brooklyn, New York, accurately stated, “Shallow breathing doesn’t just make stress a response, it makes stress a habit our bodies, and therefore, our minds, are locked into.” I can also testify from personal experience how yoga can assist with breaking the shallow breathing and people pleasing habits.
Growing up as a chronic people pleaser, the competitive sports I dabbled in put me in a difficult position. Of course, I wanted to do my best for my team; but even on days we won, I still experienced the disappointment the other team felt. When we lost, I still enjoyed watching the other team celebrate their victory. If participation awards didn’t already exist, I would’ve been the one to invent them. My first semester at Western Kentucky University, my health-conscious roommate kept me motivated in a gym routine. One day we decided to give a yoga class a try after our usual workout. This felt foreign as I was only in competition with myself. I am the only one I can disappoint or make proud. The instructor made it clear multiple times throughout the class the importance of listening to our bodies. Stepping on the mat felt like I was stepping up just for myself, and as previously stated, being a people pleaser made this feel strange and almost unnecessary. “Doing something for just me? What’s the point?”
With each breath, I intentionally filled my lungs with air, and I could feel my shoulders fall back and my spine lengthen. As I did so, inquiries floated through my brain… “What does it mean to be here and now? What should I hear when listening to my body? Is it normal to have this many questions while exercising?” These questions arose often throughout the first half dozen yoga classes I attended. Slowly but surely, I started to understand how our mind and body are connected. The breathing and meditation techniques that are typically practiced at the beginning and end of the class became my favorite part, and I now know why they are essential to the practice. If your breath is off, your pose won’t be as deep and impactful. If your mind is on what happened before class or stressing about what needs to be done after the class, your breath will be off. Taking those few moments to be intentional about grounding yourself is equivalent to stretching before a marathon.
Circling back to those questions, “Doing something for just me? What’s the point?” I soon found out when I started showing up for myself, I was able to show up for others more authentically. I did so not out of obligation but because I had the energy and space to show and be love.
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