We spoke to our in-house yoga guru about how to boost wellbeing during the pandemic.
It is fair to say that 2020 has been a bit of a stinker for most. But for those going through fertility treatment the burden of disruption, closed offices and limited social contact has been especially trying.
The good news is, as the year has progressed, offices have reopened, clinics have adapted, and a “new normal” has been painstakingly mapped out, so too has our understanding of the power of mindfulness.
At TFP, we have always extolled the virtues of positive mental health practices for our patients, many of whom will be going through one of the more stressful periods of their lives during their treatment, notwithstanding the current pandemic raging around us.
We spoke to Julie, our in-house yoga expert, about how mindfulness can help promote best mental health practices and boost physical and emotional wellbeing – and why now is the best time to start.
The connection between mental and physical health is not one that has been widely acknowledged by mainstream science until recently.
As many of us will already know, physiological conditions such as stress can have huge implications on the body, with sleeplessness and lack of appetite being amongst the most common. Finding ways to mitigate stress, anxiety and other negative emotions can not only make a huge impact on the mental aspects of day to day life, but can actually make our bodies healthier, too.
Many of us will recognise that when we’re stressed, other symptoms can pop up, too. According to Julie, “when we stuff [negative emotion] down, when we hide it away and pretend it’s not there, it often blocks our [chakras].” And, there may be some scientific backing to this claim.
Instead of ignoring our negative emotions or experiences, the key is to sit with them, to acknowledge them, and to feel them. “When we embrace our pain, when we give it a name and bring it to the light, we can start to heal, to re-centre and to find balance. After all, pain exists to alert us to problems.”
This doesn’t need to be the physical pain of trauma or loss, but could be daily discomfort caused by loneliness from being stuck in the house, stress from work or financial pressure, or anxiety about the future. This can be causing pain that is less pronounced or easy to pinpoint, but nonetheless significant. The key is to learn to sit and acknowledge this “pain” so that it can be overcome.
“If we touch a hot hob, we do not simply ignore the pain. We remove our hand from the source of heat. We clean the wounds and give them time to heal. Why should our emotional pain be any different? [This] deserves just as much care, patience and tenderness as our physical pain – and, as noted, the two are often linked anyway, with emotional pain commonly manifesting as physical pain.”
Acknowledging that, yes, at the moment, things could be better, is part and parcel of living a full life. Instead of blocking those feelings of discomfort or anxiety or trying to get yourself “happy” again, actually feeling these feelings can help you to process and move on from them in a healthier way. This is an essential part of mindfulness promoted by yoga.
Of course, yoga also has a range of physical benefits, such as improving muscle tone, flexibility and strength!
Another way that yoga and mindfulness can assist those dealing with fertility treatments and those simply living through a tough time in general is by helping people to cope with the uncertainty that life throws at us – something particularly pertinent for those of us going through fertility treatment, and, indeed, anyone who has lived through 2020.
Julie explains that much of her American upbringing altered her views on what she could control, which made it hard to cope with life later on.
“So much of my Midwestern upbringing was about overcoming, dominating, and making things happen. I grew up with the ‘go big or go home’ mentality. What do you mean I cannot control everything? What do you mean I cannot change anything I want if I just work hard enough?
While ambition and grit are fantastic qualities to have, the acknowledgement that some things are out of our hands is a skill that must be learned. Dedicating energy to things that are within our reach is worth our time and applauded by society, but letting go of things that don’t take time, work and bravery. “The hard work is the inner work, not in the changing of the outside world.”
“The Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, has a famous phrase: Abandon hope. It sounds awful and [pessimistic], and yet, it isn’t. It is a call to presence, to acceptance, to being here now.”
Anyone who has practised mindfulness or meditation will know how hard it is to keep your mind on the here and now, without it wandering off on your plans for the day, what you’re making for dinner, and future anxieties.
Yoga, like meditation, helps by focusing the mind on the present moment; the moves you perform are to be done with special attention to your surroundings, breaths and body movements. This helps to clear and refocus the mind and to reroute it from harmful thought cycles. While by no means a wonder cure, it’s thought mindfulness can actually rewire your brain.
This, argues Julia, is more important than ever. “Now, humans are having to dive inward. We were literally forced to be inside for much of 2020 because of the global pandemic.” This also means figuratively going inside of ourselves. Many of us found, and continue to find ourselves with too much time to sit around and dwell on the situation, as well as whatever is going on personally, without our usual means of escape – friends, family, bars, gyms – everything. But maybe this is a good thing.
“Going inside ourselves and journeying through our mental landscapes can sometimes feel treacherous. However, it is usually the only way forward. Yoga and meditation offered me a different way to approach myself, my life and my mental health.
I am certain that everyone has practices that will resonate for them, and they don’t have to be specifically yoga or meditation-related; they can be anything from dancing to playing with dogs to sitting in nature” and so on!
TFP offer FREE online yoga classes to all patients undergoing fertility treatment. To access the sessions, simply use the link below. All levels are welcome!
For more information on joining a TFP Fertility yoga session and the instructor, click here.
The sessions are every Thursday at 5:45-6:45PM (GMT).