The other day whilst going through some old files on my computer I found a text that I wrote exactly five years ago in March 2014. Somehow  it ended up unpublished and forgotten. But rereading it I realise its content is still very valid and that’s why I decided to share.

Having devoted much of the past eight years of my own yoga practice and my teaching to study end explore how yoga affects our nervous system and the state of our mental health, this post gives a small testimony how yoga with its different components of posture, breath, sound and behavioural practices can help us increase our resistance stress-resilience (fear is also stress). Yoga teaches us how to self-regulate and this helps us be more in control of emotions and stressful situations which in turn may lead us to feel more empowered  in our daily lives. In the end it is not about the postures but about what goes on when we learn them, when we breathe and practice to stay present in the moment however difficult that may be. Please continue reading below and keep checking this page for upcoming posts on the theme.

March 14th 2014

I used to be afraid of everything. When I was a kid I refused to participate in gymnastics during PE lessons – even a back roll (chakrasana to us Ashtanga yogis) was out of the question. Let’s not even talk about hand stand… The first time in my life I ever kicked up against a wall I was 33 years old. I had been convinced that my shoulders would never support me or that I would crash down on my head.  Of course that was just my imagination.

Despite being very anxious when younger – fearing I would damage my clothes if climbing a tree or fall when running and thereby make my mother angry with me – I was always very active, as long as I felt that I was in control. I played a lot of sports such as basked ball, did martial arts, got involved in fitness training, eventually became a spinning instructor and did a lot of long distance running. I travelled overseas, often alone, and never reflected much upon the dangers of doing this on my own.

Fear is often irrational and what makes one person freak out doesn’t even bother another one. Practicing Ashtanga yoga has been the key for me to face many of my fears. By going through challenges on the yoga mat my practice empowers me daily and teaches me many important lessons about how my mind works.

Moving and breathing in and out of asanas on the mat has not only made me stronger physically or allowed me to understand/be closer to my body. It also continuously teaches me to go a little further out of my comfort zone every day. Because it is only on the edge of the comfort zone where change and development happens. Step by step the practice tricks me into learning more and more difficult things, slowly adapting the body and mind progressively. With repetition and dedication, the posture that seemed absolutely impossible a few weeks, months or years before suddenly is accessible.  Like this the boundaries for what is possible are pushed a little further every day.

In my yoga practice I’ve had to (and still do) face my fears every day. And I do it because I’ve learnt that every small victory on the yoga mat shows me that I am much stronger than my mind tells me. The phrase “Yes, I can” – although it feels like a cliché – becomes a mantra that grows stronger with every hurdle passed. In the end it’s not about mastering the postures, but the result that comes with achieving something that used to be “impossible”.  If I can do the “impossible” on the mat the same should be possible off the mat – in daily life. And that’s where the real empowerment of yoga practice lies.

Teaching Ashtanga yoga as rehabilitation from PTSD, stress and depression in Rwanda 2011