Super conscientious, damn good at her job, reliable, hardworking and committed to striving for excellence. What kind of picture does this paint? Someone at the top of their game?
This was definitely a viable perspective of me a few years ago. However, I would also need to add the following to describe that same me at that very same time:
Running on adrenaline, frequently fatigued, underweight, anxious, traumatised and constantly so sick to her stomach that she carried Pepto bismol in her bag.
Fact. It makes me cringe to think of it.
Highly Sensitive People are masters of people pleasing and this has been my Achilles for a long time now. We so intuitively know how the other feels, what they need and how to perform to meet those needs. We hate to disappoint and because we empathise so deeply with the other, our own needs become enmeshed with those of the people around us, often inevitably being ignored in favour of others.
Now here is a problem - when us HSPs are unaware that being highly sensitive is an actual thing, we can be drawn into trying to mould and force our highly sensitive bodies into roles and ways of being that just aren’t suited to us. Even worse, into situations that cause our systems to become overwhelmed and stressed out. Maybe even cause them to collapse and burn out.
I genuinely feel truly blessed that the practice of yoga came into my life. In my opinion, Yoga is an essential practice for all, but it has specific benefits for us HSPs that makes it my number 1 suggestion for any HSP struggling with life. Here is why:
1. Regulation of the Nervous System
Every HSP is different and will have their own story and history. However, one thing is for sure – our nervous systems are more sensitive to stimuli and process these stimulations on a deeper level. This makes us more likely to experience stress and anxiety. In general, the sequence of a typical yoga class allows the nervous system to practice moving from rest to a ‘safe’ level of stimulation, before returning to back to rest. This can be super effective, in particular for those HSPs that have experience trauma of any kind.
2. Mastery of the breath
The breath is the golden ingredient to a yoga class that packs a big punch in terms of aiding regulation of the nervous system, but also in being able to take your yoga off the mat. During daily life, when things become overwhelming the breath has the power to return your system to base level. As one of my teachers calls it, the breath becomes your BFF! The quality of your breath impacts so many things and when we start to work with deeper, more complete breaths we are not only stretching and activating the respiratory muscles, but are also literally toning the nervous system, in particular the Vagus nerve which has a central role in the relaxation response.
3. Becoming Embodied
Yoga brings you quite literally into your own body. As well as all the general physical benefits, Yoga is an inward focused practice that asks you to pay attention to your own physicality. When you are on your mat, it is your space, your time to attend to your needs and with practice, this can help untangle your own true needs from the needs of those around you.
4. A Sensory Break
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras he talks about the practice of ‘Pratyahara’ as one part of the Yogic path. This refers to a ‘withdrawal of the senses’. While the point of Prathyahara is not so much to give our senses a break, but to guide us inward towards the state of meditation, it does serve those of us who need such a sensory break! Modern life is often full of too much for our eyes, ears, skin, etc to take in. From device screens and the noise of traffic, to itchy, synthetic clothing… The list goes on. What better way to allow our senses time to reboot, than to spend an hour or so in comfy clothes, moving, breathing, maybe with our eyes closed or with some dim lighting? There may even be a chance to do so with some soft music, or perhaps even silence? What joy!
5. Understanding Self
The whole practice of yoga, not just the asana (postures) come together to give you the best gift of all – deeply knowing and loving yourself. Yoga connects you to that place of deep inner knowing, your gut feeling, your intuition. The place where you truly know what it is that you want and need. Through this connection a sense of empowerment can evolve as you start to give yourself permission to honour your needs and wants. From constantly people pleasing and tuning in with others, you start to place your own importance as top of the list. When you show this kindness towards yourself, the kindness then extends out to others naturally. Rather than coming from an anxious space, it comes from a much deeper place of self-love.
The benefits of Yoga do not come over night and it most definitely is a journey, one that I am still very much on. The journey is also not always a sweet one and requires the discipline to keep showing up, even when rolling out your mat feels like too much (and believe me those days definitely come!). However, with consistent practice and time, the benefits will slowly emerge and you will be able to look back on the journey so far and realise how far you have come.