9 Ways Highly Sensitive People Can Benefit From Yoga

A highly sensitive person doing yoga

Yoga is the perfect way to quiet your overstimulated mind and have it focus on just one or two things vs. 100.

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 some 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, traumatized, and constantly so sick to her stomach that she carried Pepto Bismol in her bag. (Fact. It makes me cringe to think about it.)

You see, highly sensitive people (HSPs) are masters of people-pleasing, and this has been my Achilles heel for a long time now. We so intuitively know how others feel, what they need, and what to do to meet those needs. We hate to disappoint, and because we empathize so deeply with others, our own needs can become enmeshed with those of the people around us, often inevitably being ignored in favor of others’.

Learning to Calm Down Our Highly Sensitive Bodies

Now here is the problem: When we HSPs are unaware that being highly sensitive is an actual thing, we can be drawn into trying to mold 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. But…

enter yoga.

I genuinely feel blessed that the practice of yoga came into my life. In my opinion, yoga is an essential practice for everyone, but it has specific benefits for HSPs that makes it my number one suggestion for any HSP struggling to flourish. Here are nine reasons why.

9 Ways Highly Sensitive People Can Benefit From Yoga

1. It will regulate your overstimulated 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 the world and we process stimulation on a much 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 back to rest. This can be a super effective way to train your nervous system, in particular for those HSPs who have experienced trauma of any kind.

2. Your breathing will help your system return to its base level.

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 its 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. Yoga brings you into your body, which makes you focus inward instead of outward.

Yoga brings you quite literally into your own body. As well as all the general physical benefits — yoga is good for your heart, gives you more energy, and can help you sleep better — it is an inward-focused practice that asks you to pay attention to your own physicality, which makes ignoring yourself very difficult! 

When you are on your mat, it is your space and time to attend to your needs, like your very own HSP sanctuary. With practice, this can help us HSPs to recognize our own true needs from the needs of those around us. 

4. It gives our overstimulated senses a chance to reboot.

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 a sensory break! Modern life is often full of too much for our eyes, ears, skin, and so on, to take in. From device screens and traffic noise, to itchy, synthetic clothing… the list goes on (especially for HSP!). 

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, too. There may even be a chance to do so with some soft music, or perhaps silence. What joy and a wonderful way to calm our HSP senses.

5. It helps nourish your sensitive body, like improving your circulation.

Having a more sensitive body can often mean that HSPs experience more intolerances, inflammation, and immune reactivity. As someone who has had flare ups of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) my whole life, I can now select specific practices that I know will give my body exactly what it needs to return to balance. 

From just a physical point of view, the combination of different types of movements (including forward bends, back bends, twists, side bends, arm balances, and inversions) — as well as working with a conscious breath — improves the circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids around the body. This movement of fluids allows fresh nutrients to be brought to areas that need it and waste materials to be moved along to be released, meaning you can feel nourished from the inside-out. Your body will love you for it!

6. It’ll help you get in touch with, and regulate, your emotions.

Emotions are physiological events and quite literally “energy in  motion”; they need to be felt and allowed to move through the body. The way in which we mindfully move the body in a yoga class can often provide the reflective space in which these sensations can be acknowledged, felt, and allowed safe passage. 

Since we HSPs feel emotions more intensely, it is even more important to give this time for emotions to be processed in this physical way. Time on the mat can become a sanctuary that creates space for processing the day’s events and any emotions that may have been brought up. Over time and with consistent practice, it also develops further insight into your own inner world: how your emotions feel as sensations in your body, what triggers them, where emotional tension can collect, and, most importantly, the practices that help you to best release them.

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7. It’ll help you be kinder to yourself.

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 honor your needs and wants. 

One of the central philosophical teachings in yoga is of Ahimsa. Translating as “non-harming,” it can be viewed as the act of unconditional kindness to all living things. It teaches us that, if we want to treat others with kindness, then we must first start with ourselves. Working with this teaching can move us HSPs from constant people-pleasing and feeling responsible for other people’s feelings, to placing our own self-care as our top priority. 

8. A good yoga class will quiet your overstimulated mind and have it focus on just one or two things vs. 100.

As an HSP, having a rich inner world can be both a source of joy and pain. Sometimes the modern world, with its great big to-do list and expectations, can be just too much. Couple that with overthinking every conversation because you “sensed a tone” or felt the energy was “off,” and that monkey in your HSP brain can really run the show. And it can be exhausting! 

A good yoga class will gently guide your senses to focus on one or two things, such as the breath, or perhaps how a particular joint moves in your body, or even how a quality (such as expansion) can be expressed while in a posture. This guided focus might just mean that the “monkey mind” begins to hush a little, giving you a moment of peace from the overthinking mind

At the very least, yoga teaches you to step back and observe your own thoughts from a place of compassion. You might start to say, “Oh, there I am worrying about X again,” rather than getting swept away in those thoughts.

9. Yoga will give you the space to recognize your gifts as an HSP, like finding the beauty in your environment.

A lot of the above reasons are about how yoga supports the challenges that HSPs can face in the modern world. However, the biggest gift that yoga has given me is the space to recognize my personal gifts as an HSP and to view them as just that — gifts! Through my yoga practice, I am allowed to be me. I have permission to enjoy questioning the big things, to find beauty in nature and my environment, to find the joy in movement, and the sheer fun of expression through the written word. This is because yoga returns you to yourself. It brings you back to your truth and what it is that lights your fire. This is, for me, when the HSP spirit truly thrives.

The benefits of yoga, of course, do not come overnight, and it is most definitely 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, time, and a good teacher, the benefits will slowly emerge. You will find a strength and calm within your HSP body and mind that may then allow your own unique and beautiful fire to burn brightly.

For more yoga inspiration, join my free Facebook group, “Stress Less, BE More,” a group that seeks to see HSPs thrive through the lens and support of yoga and other body-mind practices.

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