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Stretch to De-stress

“Escape from the black cloud that surrounds you. Then you will see your own light
as radiant as the full moon.”

These words by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi, the Islamic scholar, and a theologian seem very true in the present challenging scenario that has arisen due to the coronavirus. The outbreak of pandemic and the ensuing lockdown and limitations have forced individuals to battle every day with their new way of life. Restricted travel, anxiety over the risk of infection and continuous flow of negative news – all are adding to growing mental tension. Being in home isolation or quarantine can be mentally challenging. Besides staying connected to family and friends, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, there is also one more thing that can help keep anxiety and mental health in check – is yoga.

Yoga has known to be beneficial since ages, and not just for weight loss, but also to keep the mind alert yet calm.

“Yoga is best suited for this quarantine period. A mind full of negative thoughts due to uncertain future often results in sleepless nights causing daytime fatigue. Yoga is a great tool as the stretching poses help to reduce tension in muscles and joints, and this can, in turn, help relax the sympathetic system. There are many yoga poses which are excellent for managing blood pressure thereby reducing anxiety symptoms” says Dr Manoj Kutteri, wellness director at Atmantan Wellness Centre. Practicing yoga takes care of all the mental problems.

Yoga along with breathing and meditation can be considered as an all-round exercise which takes care of our body, mind and soul. An investigation distributed in The Lancet Psychiatry diary has additionally recommended that COVID-19 survivors may endure psychological well-being issues like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Anxiety or stress usually triggers the sympathetic nervous system which will have manifestations such as increased blood pressure, tensed muscles, lack of concentration, faster breathing, and yoga helps to calm that down. Well-known Indian diabetologist Dr. Srimant Sahu who has treated several PTSD patients says that yoga can be one of the most effective tools for personal growth and spiritual healing. It gives you the power of vulnerability because it is in this space that the deepest form of connection can take place. “When we are fully grounded and open within ourselves, there is no need to hide”.

 Due to the popularity of yoga a rising number of studios and retreat centres have come up in Yangon as well as in other spectacular locations in the country. Yangon Yoga House, a wellness oasis in the heart of the city and one of the city’s leading yoga studios offers a variety of classes taught in English by certified yoga instructors. There are classes on Ashtanga, Hatha, Yin, Pilates, Total Body Sculpt, and three levels of Vinyasa for both novices and advanced practitioners. At present, keeping the pandemic in view, they are following the guidelines strictly. According to their website all in-studio classes are limited to 9 participants to allow ample space between mats. In-studio classes are not available on Zoom or recorded.Instead, there are online classes that can be joined via Zoom.

Studio Kuuzchi Yoga nestled among the winding, tree-lined streets of Golden Valley is almost 6 year old and offers both morning and evening classes, of between 60 to 90 minutes. It focuses on the traditional style of yogas -Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga. Yangon-based Dr. Naveen of York Yoga Corner a yoga, zumba, fitness and dance studio teaches kundalini yoga, hatha yoga and aroma yoga creating a world of health and fitness.  He says, “The goal is to build physical vitality and increase consciousness”.

Yoga stems from the Vedas – the Indian holy texts that were composed from around 1900BC. Besides yoga, three major religions came from those texts – Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. The Katha Upanishad, probably composed by Hindu sages within the first few generations of the early Buddhist community, mentions yoga in connection with discipline—in other words, yoking the body and mind to the will. Later Buddhist sources likewise use the word yoga to refer to spiritual discipline. Most yogic practices and postures follow the symbolic teaching of a lotus flower which holds a special place and meaning in all three religions. A lotus pose is often recommended for meditation and pranayama.

To a yoga practitioner, the lotus flower symbolizes the expansion of the soul and spiritual awakening. The roots of a lotus are grounded in the mud (earth/materialism). The stem grows up through the water (growth/life experience) and blooms above the water, in the sunlight (awakening/enlightenment). It conveys the meaning that our losses can make us more understanding, and our frailties provide necessary fuel for empathy, connection, and acceptance.

One may wonder why yoga makes you feel both calm and alert. Stretching, meditating, and deep breathing makes you feel intensely calm. Well-known Indian cardiologist Dr. Satish Gupta says, “Yoga has been around for several hundreds of years. Its goal is to create a sense of harmony and connection between the mind and body. It combines controlled, deep breathing, a series of stretches, and mindfulness”. Adding further he says, “It also fosters clarity and tranquility”. Studies done on yogic postures reveal that Yoga makes you feel more calm and relaxed because of breathing techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing also called ‘Ujjayi breath’ that helps to take us out of the sympathetic nervous system, and moves us into our parasympathetic response i.e. rest and digest.

According to a CNN report,  yoga can increase the production of two hormones essential for cultivating calm, health and happiness. Oxytocin, or the ‘cuddle hormone’ can make you feel closer to your loved ones, decrease your stress, and improve your overall wellness whereas endorphins are another type of hormone that’s released when you practice yoga. Endorphins play an important role in managing physical pain and negative emotions.

Tristina Kennedy and Michael Fong, founders of Roots to Wings Yoga in Myanmar are sharing Yoga teachings across the globe. Roots to Wings Yoga is an official registered Yoga School with the Yoga Alliance. Both are of the opinion that yoga has revealed rewards beyond what could have been expected. Besides having regular classes they take online classes as well.

“The aim is to provide a strong foundation in the function and application of the yoga practice (roots), while allowing you freedom to explore the world and integrate these teachings into your life (wings)” the founders say.

To deepen the understanding of Yoga and learning to teach they will be organizing 200-hour-programs during the year 2021, in several countries. Emphasizing the quality of their programs they say, “Our program not only focuses on the physical elements of yoga, it is grounded in deep introspection to awaken your courage, authenticity, empathy, and compassion.”