YOGA, MENTAL HEALTH, AND THE LINK TO LEARNING

Life can be hard. Really hard. There are practically unlimited ways that one can become stressed, and I think I must have absorbed most of them over the last 25 years.

To cut a long story short, over these years I have incorrectly dealt with these stresses, and absorbed them into my shoulders and neck. Gradually, both became like rocks, stiff, tight and inflexible. But instead of doing anything about it, I let it build and build and build to the point of being in constant physical pain, often resulting in headaches, poor sleep and sadness. I know everything is relative, and that others are experiencing real pain and loss, but it was chronically affecting my entire being.

People: friends and family, always kept telling me that I needed to stretch to relieve the muscle pain and that I should go to a physio or massage therapist. I did that a few times, but it only touched the surface, so I would go onto YouTube and search for some free yoga as they suggested. Now I’ve done yoga before, but every time I did, I would always injure myself after a couple of sessions. The reason for that is because I would, unknowingly, choose a session that wasn’t suited to where my body was at. Or, if i got passed a few sessions unscathed, I would still be in pain and always think that it wasn’t working, and so stop.

Now, despite these bad experiences, I knew I couldn’t just leave it. I also knew that it made sense that the tension would ironically have to be reduced by exercising the muscles. Yoga must be the answer.

So I got to thinking, and then finally it occurred to me 3 months ago that doing yoga should be no different from doing anything as a novice, and that I absolutely needed modelled and scaffolded support to be able to get anything out of this ancient philosophy. I’m not sure why it took me so long to register this, especially since I have written about the imperative of modelling numerous times: here, here, here, and the importance of incremental knowledge building here and here, but anyways, eventually it clicked.

So what did I do?

1. The first thing was for me to accept a different motivation: learning, and not performance. I realised that I had to accept that the years of wrenching myself would not be unwound in a couple of yoga sessions. This meant that I would have to tell myself that the process was an extended one, and that if I was to measure any improvement, I would realistically need to give myself a month of continuous practice to evaluate any effectiveness, but even then, that it would be only small if at all.

2. The second thing was to realise that I needed to be taught by someone who knew what they were doing, who knew that building strength takes time, and who offered a continuum of learning where I could start at the very beginning. I found this in the reasonably priced platform www.glo.com.

3. The third thing was to realise that I needed to choose only two 20 minute classes that offered a chance to work on specific sections of the body (upper and lower), and that I would have to repeat those two classes, and alternate between them each day.

4. The fourth thing was to accept that even though some of the beginner class stretches were ostensibly too easy, that I was in fact strengthening muscles that I would need to support more difficult and inflexible muscles in other poses. This reminded me of Engelmenn, here and here.

5. The fifth thing was to discipline myself to doing the practice each day before work. And there were a lot of times where it would have been so easy not to do it – but I knew it was only 20 minutes, and I knew that I would be glad I had done it – I was able to self-regulate.

So after 90 sessions, where am I?

  • I don’t wake up anymore in more pain than when I went to bed.
  • I still experience pain, but nowhere near as much
  • I am still prone to headaches, but the frequency of them is significantly reduced.
  • I am a lot more flexible and have noticed that I feel better in my hips as well as my lower back.
  • I feel stronger.
  • I have begun to do some running as a result of this increased liberation.

Without any shadow of doubt, I am feeling better. My mental health has improved a lot. I am not constantly plagued by a physical pain that shouldn’t even be there. I know that I still have a way to go, but the cool thing is that because things have improved quite a lot, I’m obviously on the right path – and that gives me even more motivation. I know that I can also start to increase the level of difficulty now too to strengthen even more…and that’s exciting.

Develop a plan – like a sequence of learning

For me, the greatest realisation was that to strengthen my mental health, I needed to have a plan that allowed me to gradually develop and build my knowledge of a domain that could address it. For me, it was yoga. For you, it might be swimming, running, or cooking. Patience and discipline reign supreme, but planning an incremental curriculum that will help you achieve tangible benefits is more important.

I might check back in with you in another 90 days.

I’m Paul Moss. I’m a learning designer at the University of Adelaide. Follow this blog for more stuff about education and follow me on Twitter @edmerger

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