Hitomi Mochizuki on mental health and the practice of yoga

Yaknowme Hitomi‘s Hitomi Mochizuki is not one to shy away from sharing her true feelings, whether that be opening up about her battles with mental illness or her practices in yoga and veganism.

After speaking to Hitomi about her life and passions in August last year, we decided to get her back on Husskie to chat more in depth about topics close to her heart: her yoga teaching training, the importance of breath, and dealing with mental health imbalances.

Here, she sits down with Husskie for a very raw, unfiltered chat…

You’ve studied in Bali to become a certified yoga instructor, can you tell us what your experience was like?
My yoga teacher training was. Life. Changing. I am still receiving new gifts from the amazing practices I learned every single day. I had a very traditional lineage-based training which opened my eyes to what yoga really is and how it is actually a very precise discipline and science. The main goal I learnt is to awaken the divine energy within oneself and enter a state of samadhi or union with the divine. To do this, you must first learn how to slow down. So much of yoga in the western world is about speeding up, doing acrobatic poses, or getting super sweaty. While there’s nothing at all wrong with the newer forms of yoga, it has just lost its original intention!

What are some of the benefits of slow yoga?
When our bodies are moving, it makes our mind race too. Have you ever been on a long phone call with someone and started to pace around? Well the opposite happens when we slow down the body, the mind begins to slow with it. The thoughts are less manic and easier to observe. If we know how to slow down on the yoga mat and sit through three unmoving minutes in downward facing dog or in a twist, we are making some real progress with the relationship to the mind. This is the first step. Steady the moon, steady your container for energy (the body and mind) so when things get heated in life or on the yoga mat, you can sit through them without reacting.

Do you believe there is a place for energy in yoga?
A vital step [of yoga] is clearing all the chakras and nadis, which are energy centers in the body, or as I like to think of them, our most recent karmic imprint. Once the moon has been steadied, the sun may rise – this means stoking the fire within, stoking the energy at the base of the spine now that the channel has been cleared. This energy is extremely potent and should only be awakened if the container for this energy is stable enough. This is why doing fast-paced yoga classes doesn’t always give us long-term benefits because they are bringing in so much energy before we even know how to sit still with the energy that’s already there. My training taught me so much and allowed me to tap into the subtlest energies in the body.

What were the key things you learnt during the training?
Each yoga practice consisted of asana, pranayama, and breath work, which was so new to me. Doing the yoga postures allows us better access to the breath, which allows us to do breath work and be perfectly prepped for a deep meditation. Breathwork and meditation were main parts of my training. That was a really short run down of the philosophy, but as someone who had struggled with self harm and sadness, it has made me so much more stable and coming back to the mat every morning. It also allows me to cultivate peace and stillness in my mind no matter what is going on in my outer world. No matter how stressful, heated or chaotic life gets, I have the tools to return to my breath and even find bliss in those moments.

I’m glad to hear yoga is helping with your mental health issues. Do you have advice for others who may be struggling?
I have so many tips that have helped me through my mental imbalances so it is hard to choose one. It depends what exactly a person is struggling with, but I would try and open their eyes to the power of the breath. It’s a forgotten tool we all have within us. When you become aware of the breath, you not only drop into the present, which will hopefully calm your worried mind, but it also calms the body down. I use to struggle with really bad anxiety and panic attacks – but knowing to extend my exhale longer than my inhale changed all of that. When we extend our exhale, we are activating the parasympathetic nervous system which helps to rest our body and recover from a “fight or flight” state. Your mind may begin racing and panicking about the past or the future, which then sends your body into panic mode trying to protect you when there’s no real danger – so breathing this way can calm the body and mind down.

Do you have any other tips?
My second vital tip is that when you’re experiencing any intense suicidal thoughts, self harming thoughts or anxiety, drop into the body and out of the mind. Anxiety first arises in the mind, usually after it has been running in circles trying to figure itself out. Don’t mind the mind! Put on some music and dance or shake. Run. Do jumping jacks. Go for a walk. Drop into the sensations of the body and stop indulging the mind. And of course, if you’re having these intense thoughts, I recommend to call someone to let them know how you’re feeling or seek professional help from a therapist or psychiatrist.

Have you ever sought out professional help yourself?
I personally love seeing a therapist because it makes me feel so much less alien with my feelings. It gave me hope knowing that were tons of other people dealing with similar imbalances and that there was even a name for what I was experiencing. And I had the freedom to say exactly how I felt without bottling it all up inside or filtering myself. I could come to a safe space and be completely honest. Seeing a therapist was a big part of my healing.

All images: Yaknowme Hitomi | Interview: Margaux Levy | Intro: Yelena Fairfax

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