17 August 2020
17 August 2020
When most people think of the benefits of yoga, flexibility and strength are often first to come to mind. However, practicing yoga can also have an incredibly positive effect on your mental health and happiness. This is because yoga increases body awareness, releases muscle tension and turns your focus inwards towards your practice rather than outwards to endless to-do lists, and work or relationship stress. But what if you have physical limitations that prevent you from practising yoga or you are tight on time and can’t commit to a full yoga practice? Thankfully you can still experience all of the fabulous mental health benefits and calm that yoga offers through the practice of meditation.
Like yoga, meditation is often practised on a mat (aptly named a meditation mat - although a yoga mat would still work), and uses the practice of mindfulness to achieve a state of calm and feeling present in the moment. Although it’s possible to meditate while standing, or even walking, it’s most common for newcomers to feel less distracted while sitting on a meditation mat in the traditional cross-legged or lotus position.
Mindfulness may just sound like a trendy buzzword, but in reality, it can be a complete mind and body miracle worker. As our minds and bodies are intricately linked, physical pain and mental issues like depression, stress and anxiety are closely related.
Sometimes when you feel like your body is just one ache and pain after another, it’s time for a mental recharge. Taking a few minutes each day to quietly sit on your meditation mat and slow down to acknowledge how your body is feeling may actually help to make it feel better.
Both yoga and meditation can also do wonders for alleviating negative thoughts and anxiety. Feeling exhausted and overwhelmed can cause anxiety and negativity to steamroll, and your mind to run wild. Sometimes taking a minute to bring awareness to these thoughts is all it takes to do a mental reset. Whether you grab your yoga bag and head to the studio, or sit on a meditation mat in the comfort of your own home, it’s incredible how energizing it can be to consciously take a few slow, deep breaths.
As yoga is a more physical practice that combines standing, kneeling, sitting, arm balances etc., a supportive, non-slip mat is your best choice. As the most common yoga mats are rectangular and require being rolled up for transport or when not in use, it’s a good idea to also have a dedicated yoga bag to protect your mat.
Meditation mats can be made from many different materials but are often round and made from the same material as yoga mats, featuring intricate prints and designs. One of the most popular design motifs for a round meditation mat is the mandala. This ancient design with detailed geometric patterns has long been used as a tool for aiding with mindfulness and meditation - and it also looks fabulous if left out (intentionally or not) on full display.
Whether you choose a yoga mat or meditation mat is up to you as it’s mainly personal preference - but if you can’t decide, there’s no harm in getting both!
For those people who find sitting on the floor uncomfortable, a meditation cushion or other additional meditation props may come in handy. If sitting cross-legged results in pins and needles in your feet or knees, or you find it puts too much pressure on your spine, a meditation cushion is exactly what you need. Sitting on these specially designed cushions allows blood to properly flow to your legs and gently lifts your hips so that they naturally roll forward which helps to maintain a relaxed, aligned spine. The key to meditating is to be free from distractions so the more comfortable you are during the practice, the more successful you will be.
The first few times that you attempt to meditate may feel downright impossible. However, the most important element to finding success with your meditation practice is to not give up. As consistency is the key to developing any new habit, it’s important to create an environment that makes you happy and to start by only committing to a very short time period each day. Find a peaceful spot to lay out your meditation mat - and cushion if you choose to use one - and just sit or lie down in a comfortable position for 1-3 minutes a day. Try your best to be fully present in the moment by breathing slowly and aiming to release any tension in parts of your body that feel stressed. By starting with a manageable amount of time each day, the more likely you will stick to your new routine. As this new habit develops, gradually increase your time as you become more comfortable with this form of stillness.
With more and more people working out at home or in public outdoor spaces, portable exercise equipment and accessories have been flying off the shelves. Yoga lovers have been taking their practice to campgrounds, local parks, beaches and even the forest, looking for quiet, secluded spots. This has led to a huge increase in demand for both yoga mats and yoga bags. It’s no fun toting around a yoga mat that is continuously trying to unroll so a yoga mat bag will make your life a whole lot easier. A yoga bag is essential for carrying your mat to and from wherever your practice takes you as it will protect your mat from damage and keep it rolled up neatly to save space for ease of transport if you’re walking, hiking or cycling to your favourite place to practise. It will also do double duty as a safe place to tuck away your phone, keys or wallet, either on the way to or during your practice. Yoga mats are an investment worth protecting so it’s no wonder yoga mat bags have become so popular.
Choosing a mindfulness routine that’s right for you may be a case of trial and error but regardless of which option you choose, you will begin to reap the benefits in no time. While the world may be filled with uncertainty at the moment, you can take charge and create calm for yourself with a few deep breaths and a bit of practice.