90 days of yoga...

What started as a personal challenge to do 30 straight days of yoga, quickly morphed into a personal challenge to better understand the relationship between yoga and mental health. Now 90 days later I have come to understand why I have always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with yoga.

Being an avid 44-year-old weightlifter, with a stiff back and early signs of arthritis, I can tell you that I was a stubborn mule that had to learn the hard way about the benefits of maintaining flexibility. Throughout the past 10 years, I have tried countless times to integrating yoga into my fitness routine. What would start as good intentions, always ended quickly for the wrong reasons. Perhaps it wasn't manly enough, or maybe I was just focused on the wrong things. Let's face it, in one hour you can either spend half of the time stretching and warming up or you can stand in front of the mirror and crank out a few more sets of bicep curls. Needless to say, ego and swollen muscles always won.

That being said, my struggles with yoga haven't always been related to time constraints, swollen muscles, and ego. From a more traditional and holistic standpoint, I have struggled with the current trends in yoga. Yoga started as an eastern holistic practice focused on connecting the mind with the body to promote healing and overall wellbeing. Unfortunately, over time, western yoga has largely shifted towards becoming a commercialized practice solely focused on the body, making money, and sweating as much as possible. Lost in the translation of our modern tech world is the true healing power of yoga, what the experts like to refer to as the mind-body connection.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is probably one of the most misunderstood mental health disorders that even baffles most mental health experts. The movies love to portray a PTSD-raged alcoholic who is out of control and fighting demons of the past, but this couldn't be any farther from the truth. Most people, like me, mask their struggles and wounds with fake smiles and sayings like, "I'm good" or "I'm fine". We are far from good, we are definitely not fine, and we struggle to live another day. PTSD leaves a body that is lost in the past, reacting to conditioned perceived threats and a conscious mind that is left to figure out what the hell is going on. At the route of PTSD, the conscious mind has disconnected from the body and subconscious mind with the sole purpose of protecting itself.

90 days into my yoga journey, I am finally starting to understand how to integrate yoga into my life and to promote healing. By beginning and ending my workouts with a short 20 to 30-minute yoga practice, I have virtually eliminated most of my aches and pains and I have seen a significant increase in strength without having to do the damaging extra repetitions. By integrating yoga with a more eastern flair into my daily life I have seen the benefits of my mind and body starting to reconnect. This reconnection has resulted in an improvement in depressive symptoms, fewer anxiety attacks, and better awareness of PTSD triggers and the ability to manage them before they take over.

Yoga has not cured my mental illness but moved me one step closer. If you are interested in starting your own yoga journey, I highly recommend Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. It is free and a good mix of eastern and western yoga.

Till next time...Namaste

by Michael Coutu

PTSD & Mental Health Advocate

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