Joanne Spence - Slow Movement Maven
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Yoga?
Yoga can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Literally, it means union or to yoke – for example, connecting one’s breath to movement. What I offer as a yoga therapist is mindful movement and breathing exercises based on an ancient Indian practice, combined with Western influences of wellness and mind body connectedness. I focus on self-care and self-awareness, two important hallmarks of physical and mental health.
Are yoga and yoga therapy the same thing?
According to the International Association of Yoga Therapists, yoga therapy specifically applies yogic tools—postures, breath work, meditation, & more to address an individual’s needs— physically, mentally, emotionally, & even spiritually. While yoga itself offers tools that touch on the whole spectrum of human experience, master yoga teacher, Gary Kraftsow states, clients are usually not coming to learn yoga, but to get help with or relief from some symptom or health condition that is troubling them. In most cases, the instruction focuses on their condition rather than on the techniques or methods of yoga practice.
Do I need a yoga mat, yoga block, etc. to practice?
No, not necessarily. You can practice while sitting on the floor or a chair, standing, or lying down, either with shoes or bare feet. It is fine to use a yoga mat, yoga block(s), and blanket if you have them or if you find these items useful for support and your own comfort. However, do not let a lack of props hinder you from practicing some simple movement and breathing techniques. Pull out a kitchen chair and get started. Do a little something every day. The DAILY practice of simple movement and breathing exercises is most effective.
How often should I practice?
A recent study from the Niroga Institute indicates that practicing yoga for 10-15 minutes DAILY is as good as, or better than, doing a one-hour class per week. Regular dosage is important. Perhaps even more important is knowing what amount of time you can commit to daily yoga in order to feel successful at it. If you know 5 minutes is what you can do, then do 5 minutes. The idea is to learn a repertoire of movements and breathing exercises (tools) so you can use them when you need them. It is important to note that a gentle yoga practice can be done safely as a daily practice, unlike some aerobic activities that require a rest day between practices. Think of practicing yoga as mental health hygiene, just as brushing and flossing is to physical health/dental DAILY hygiene.
How does yoga support my mental health?
Yoga switches on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for stimulating the “rest- and-digest” activities in the body and increasing vagal tone (the vagal nerve connects the brain to the heart). Yoga also reduces arousal in the limbic areas and increases personal control over - and expression of - emotions. Simply put, yoga helps one to feel sensations in one’s body. According to Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., simply noticing what you feel fosters emotion regulation.
What if it hurts?
It is very important to only move in your pain-free range-of-motion. If you feel any pain at all, or you are holding your breath, then pause for a moment, and imagine you can send your breath into the tightness or resistance you are feeling. Then, resume your movement gently if you are able.
Why should I practice when I already breathe and move?
Good point. You are breathing, and you have moved today if you are reading this. However, yoga is moving and breathing with awareness and in a particular way. I call this mindfulness. It is called a practice because doing a little every day is an effective way to develop this skill. It is reasonable to think that if we practice anything regularly, we will get better at it. The point is: when you are having a “not-so-good” day, the yoga that you have practiced will come back to you. There will be some muscle memory. You will have access to the tools you have practiced the most, and they can help you to shift or manage your mood better. This is what self-regulation is all about.
How does the body affect the mind?
Harvard Social Psychologist, Amy Cuddy, has done groundbreaking research regarding how the body affects the mind. She discovered that our non-verbals do govern how we think and feel about ourselves. In a gentle and subtle yoga practices we focus on posture. This practice offers many practical ways to improve one’s posture. With improved posture, you can notice how your experience of thoughts and feelings shift.
How does yoga affect my mood?
Think of how your energy fluctuates all day long; sometimes, your energy level is high and makes you feel anxious or even upset/angry. At other times, your energy level may be low or flat or depressed, and you may feel sad or lethargic. Certain movements (like yoga poses) and breathing practices can move one’s energy either up or down. Think of each movement and breathing exercise like a tool in an imaginary tool belt; some are calming, and some are energizing. Some are even a little of both. You get to learn and decide what works for you, making sure that you notice as you practice how each one affects you in the moment. Then make a mental note on which side of your “tool belt” it belongs.