There is no doubt we are living through a stressful time. Of course, you’re already taking the important precautions: washing your hands, practicing physical distancing and staying at home. Still, it’s difficult to avoid all the noise, adapt to such rapid changes and manage feelings of fear and uncertainty as we contemplate potential outcomes and navigate our way through this pandemic.
During this time, it is important to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health. Yoga can be an excellent strategy for combatting the uncertainty we are feeling in our lives right now. We sat down (virtually!) with PSHSA Health and Safety Consultant and certified yoga instructor Olivia Monk-Saigal to learn more about the practice of yoga and how it can help during these uncertain times.
Tell us about yourself.
From 9-5, I’m a Health and Safety Consultant at PSHSA working with clients in Ontario’s Health and Community Care sector. I have a Master’s of Applied Science in Occupational Health from McGill University and I’ve recently earned my CRSP designation.
I am also a Certified Vinyasa and Yin Yoga Teacher in the Toronto Harbourfront area, and an avid practitioner of all types of yoga. During non-COVID times, I teach at YYoga Toronto, At Om Yoga and Results Fitness Lifestyle.
I have been an avid practitioner of Yin and Vinyasa style yoga since 2016. I started yoga as way to gain a more physically active lifestyle, but it quickly transformed into more than that. I started to notice that, in addition to helping tone my body, I started to experience better sleep, less upper back pain and a more grounded and wholehearted way of living.
Yoga is much more than a physical practice; it’s also a mental and emotional journey that never really ends! There is always more to learn and ways to challenge ourselves and our practice. Furthermore, there are so many different styles of yoga. I have found that depending on physical ability and life events or situations, there is always a style that will complement and assist you.
What has been your experience so far living through COVID-19?
COVID-19 is certainly an unprecedented time and I know we are all learning to cope and manage in our own ways! For me, I experience a number of ups and downs and emotions that fluctuate throughout the day, more so than ever before. Some days I wake up feeling frustrated or lonely, and other days I am grateful to be able to isolate in my warm, cozy Toronto sized apartment. Regardless of my mood, I have noticed that yoga and meditation are the driving forces keeping me grounded through this time. Some days that means I am moving and working my body to new challenges and poses, and other days I am putting on a meditation playlist, lighting some candles and focusing on my breath. I think now – more than ever – is a great chance to get in touch with your body and mind and understand its needs knowing that every day will bring new opportunities and challenges.
What are the benefits of yoga? And how can it help during this time?
Yoga has an endless list of benefits – and as a teacher and student, I am always learning. Yoga is just one step on the road to self-mastery, understanding and transformation. Here are a few of the top reasons why you might want to try yoga as a means of coping during these uncertain times.
Physicality: There is no denying that there is a physical component of yoga. Through the movement of our bodies, whether it’s stretching postures or postures that are strength-based (or a combination of both!), yoga gets the blood flowing. Yoga increases our overall health by improving cardiovascular and digestive health, and increasing the mobility and hydration of joints. Especially when we are cooped up inside all day, yoga can help us move right in the comfort of our own home!
Better Sleep: Because our bodies often get tired from physical activity, yoga improves our sleep quality and sleep duration. Yoga has also been shown to significantly reduce stress (of which I am sure many of us are experiencing in various ways right now), which can lead to a better rest. Moreover, yoga can teach you breathing practices which help to clear our minds, allowing us to fall asleep easier. In turn, this can lead to more energy during the day and clear our minds for enhanced efficiency.
Less pain: I have not only experienced this in myself but also witnessed the transformation in family and friends who have tried yoga. Particularly during COVID-19, I spend a fair amount of time sitting at my computer. Yoga is a great way to ensure that you are taking enough rest breaks and decreasing the potential for musculoskeletal disorders. Motion is the lotion!
Stillness: Often times we are so busy with work and our lives, we forget (or don't feel that we have time) to practice stillness and peace within our bodies and minds. Whether it's a 10 minute shavasana (laying flat on your back) at the beginning and/or end of class or practicing meditation or breathing techniques, yoga can give us an outlet to concentrate on our breathing. This can actually strengthen our minds and the control we are able to exert over our thoughts to lead a happier and healthier lifestyle.
A chance to play!: Whether you want to challenge yourself or nurture where your body is physically, yoga gives you a chance to experiment, try something new and find what works best for you.
Gratitude: Practicing gratitude every day by thinking of a few (3-5) things we have or people we love in our lives that we are grateful for can help deepen our spirituality and connection to others. Gratitude is shown to lead to a more wholehearted life and joyful spirit.
Digital Distance: I mentioned in #4 that we are so busy with our work and lives that we often overlook time for ourselves. Sometimes, this also means giving our minds a break from what we see, hear and read online or on social media. There is no denying that smartphones and social media have their positive impacts and contributions, however yoga gives us a chance to put that aside and disconnect from others. This isn’t only healthy for our eyes and neck. Our most precious commodity is time. How much are we spending on our phones daily instead of with the ones we love? Are we missing powerful and joyful moments as a result?
Do you have any specialties or focus in your classes?
The foundation of my practice combines breath and movement in the traditional Vinyasa-style coupled with the inner emotional, mindful and spiritual journey as found in many Yin-style classes.
How can we learn more?
To promote movement, mindfulness and positive mental health during this time, I’ll be posting a 10-15 minute yoga routine on PSHSA’s YouTube channel every Friday morning starting on April 24. The classes will be suitable for all fitness and skill levels. No matter where you are in your yoga practice – from a daily power Vinyasa yogi, to occasionally meditating, to having never before entered the realm of yoga – I promise that yoga has something to offer you. I would be honoured to share that journey with you and would love for you to join my virtual class! #PSHSAFridayFlow
For more about me, please feel free to visit my website at oliviamonkyoga.com or Instagram @oliviamonkyoga.