You know that tired, scattered, distracted feeling?
You can't concentrate, make decisions or focus on anything for more than a second?
Ever had a heavy, achy but restless body, paranoid thoughts and a short defensive temper?
Yes, me too, actually that describes me for the last week. I've been lovely!
Being in a bad mood is horrible, and we all go there at times.
But being down and unhappy is not a sign of weakness and ill health, it's totally natural and healthy. Your partner might not agree with me, but it is.
Our physical fitness is not measured by whether we get tired. It is measured by our ability to recover and how quickly we can do it.
Watching Andy Murray in the tennis final confirms that. He looked totally knackered half way through, then boom! - up he shot and bounded about the court smashing his way to win his trophy.
Mental health should be measured in the same way.
Whether we feel sad or totally rotten is irrelevant. It's our ability to recover that defines our health.
Emotions are not a problem, emotions are just emotions. A healthy emotion is one that comes, is expressed and then goes. Emotions become unhealthy when they come, are not expressed and stay, tucked away out of sight, festering.
The spectrum or cesspit of negative emotions that we experience in a bad mood should be equally balanced by the shimmering array of positive emotions we feel in a good mood.
How we react to these emotions should ideally be the same for good or bad feelings. Feel, observe, express, let go.
Yes I know, easier said than done. But with practice it starts to become possible.
To get better at letting go of a bad mood, one thing you can try is to be willing to let go of a good mood. Ah ha! Now there's the tricky bit!
But it's true. If a bad mood is just negative emotions passing through you, then a good mood is already leaving you by the time you have noticed it.
By being willing to let the good stuff go, you set yourself up with the ability to loosen the grip of a bad mood too.
Think of it as circuit training for your mind, have a go with that emotion, then move on to the next one, building your emotional stamina and fitness as you go.
Another way to get better at feeling emotions and letting them pass, without becoming swamped, is to practice the same technique, but physically.
A note here on bad moods. If you feel mentally unwell, that's the best time to practice yoga.
It's a struggle to get onto your mat but when you get there the relief and benefits can be great. Using the sensations of the stretches to anchor your mind into your body gives you relief from the negative thoughts in your head, and helps you to focus on the reality of what is happening in the moment.
So this is where I bring you back to the focus of why you should stretch.
When you stretch you create a sensation in your body that you can control.
The sensation in a stretch is still a physically strong and sometimes challenging feeling, but because you are in control, it feels safe, supportive and strengthening.
Taking yourself to a physical place of tension, staying there calmly and then choosing when to leave is one of the best ways of practising how to manage emotion and mental tension.
Teaching your body is basically teaching your subconscious. Our subconscious resides in our body, not our head, so learning at a body level is like getting into the mind through the back door. Physically experiencing a lesson helps the information to be absorbed quicker than trying to think it there.
So, in this next stretch, think of sensation as your body's language. Let your body talk to you and see if you can find the place where your body is talking, not screaming (ie where a stretch is so strong that it is unmanageable).
Not whispering, either - where you can only just feel it, but it's so slight that your mind wanders.
But talking, so your body is expressing itself loud enough to keep your distractable mind interested, yet not so loud that you are suffering.
In these next positions you will be stretching and building strength and endurance in your spine and the front and back of your legs. So it would be a good idea to do some warming up in Cat and Cow, a few lunges and downward dog (see previous articles).
Start standing on your mat, bend your knees slightly to release your hips and fold forward into a standing forward bend. If you hands don't touch the ground, bend your knees until they do. Feel the tightness in your legs and spine and stay here for 6 long breaths.
Then bend your knees deeply, bringing then out to the sides. Come down into a low squat, with your hands resting on the ground in front of your feet. Your heels will probably be off the ground here and that's ok.
Try to bring your weight down into the back of your hips. Notice that as you draw your knees further apart, so your chest can come lower and that your heels start to roll out. So practice, expanding your knees while drawing your inner heel down, this will give your ankles a good stretch.
Also notice the long stretch your spine is getting. Stay here for about 6 breaths.
Now slowly come back up to standing, bring your heels down but stop halfway up keeping your knees bent.
Let your bum stick out and reach your arms overhead. This is chair pose. Try to avoid over-arching your lower back here, keeping your tummy muscles engaged. Stay in this strong pose for about 6 breaths too.
Ok so now you have the positions, try moving between them as a sequence feeling your legs and back stretching and working.
The mental practice here is to notice how quick you are to want the uncomfortable, tricky bit to be over, and just to be comfortable again.
Can you stay a bit longer than you normally would, breathing gently into the challenge?
Observe how discomfort and comfort are both sensations, but we react to them very differently.
Can you try and move in and out of each position holding for slightly longer durations and become less critical, worried and reactive to the discomfort?
This will help to build your stamina, both physically and mentally.
Part 1: Confessions of a yoga teacher...
Part 2: Am I breathing?
Part 3: Find your edge
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