If you aren’t familiar with the term “Highly Sensitive Person” or “HSP” it refers to about 15-20% of the population who possess a unique sensory processing trait which allows them to pick up more on subtleties in the environment, resulting in deeper processing and often being easily overwhelmed with stimuli. HSPs often feel emotions more intensely and deeply. Most people exist on a spectrum of sensitivity, with about 1 in 5 HSPs who are considered High Sensation Seeking. Learn more about HSPs here.
The past six months has been an intentional shift to slow down my life. I left my job, moved to a new city, and started a business – all in the pursuit of a simpler life, more in alignment with my sensitive temperament, my passion, and my values.
As the months passed, the huge life changes shifted into normalcy. I noticed my stress level decreasing, my mind clearing, and my times of overwhelm being less and less. The stress, perfectionism, and vicarious trauma I experienced through my previous job and busy lifestyle got in the way of me hearing–and honoring–my body’s signals.
As my life slowed, an intense craving for authentic, invigorating, and soulful movement appeared.
Being a Highly Sensitive Person, I had to be mindful to find an activity that was equally stimulating and soothing, both spiritual and secular, and felt meaningful to me.
Thus, I returned to yoga.
As I have been returning to my yoga practice, and making it a priority to attend it weekly, I’ve had some time to reflect (usually in child’s pose) and realize that yoga is truly the perfect outlet for my sensitive body. Here’s why.
1) Yoga provides HSPs with soulful and purposeful movement.
HSPs thrive when there is a sense of depth and purpose in their life, career, and relationships. It applies to our routines around physical movement as well. HSPs do best with movement that can feel soulful, authentic, and meaningful.
Some yoga classes are great at activating and honoring both the physical body and the spiritual and emotional body. I attend a weekly yoga class called ‘Soul Flow’. It’s a beautiful mix of poses, contemplation, challenge, and reflection. With the teacher’s poetic instructions, gentle music, and candlelight – it has a sacred quality to it.
That said, I’ve found that anything can be soulful with the right mindset and a sense of humility and openness. Soulful movement can be about connecting to something bigger than yourself through joyful movement. It can be about honoring your highest good by taking care of your body. You can practice yoga and have it be about whatever feels deep and meaningful to you
Even if yoga doesn’t feel soulful to you, you can find sacredness in your morning walks, your lap swimming, or even playing with your pets.
2) Yoga helps HSPs regulate their finely-tuned nervous systems.
HSPs must take extra care to not become overstimulated, but also not become too bored. The deep breathing and meditative states accompanied by yoga can help lower stress and help you better manage the intense emotions typically felt by HSPs. Yoga activates both the brain and body – helping improve communication between the two. The better the integration between your body and mind, the better you are at recognizing overstimulation, soothing yourself, and being effective with others.
If you are a high sensation-seeking HSP, self-regulation is even more critical. Due to your competing needs for both novelty and familiarity, you often find yourself feeling “wired and tired” or “restless and exhausted“. Vary your yoga classes by attending some that are relaxing and some that are vigorous in order to find the optimal balance. For example, find a studio that offers a variety of classes in order to keep your sensation-seeking side happy with new classes, while also honoring the sensitive side of you that needs the familiarity of the same studio setting or teacher.
3) Yoga helps HSPs get out of their head and into their body.
It’s the inherent nature of HSPs to process, process, and then process some more. We take in so much of the world and notice so many details, our brain is working on overdrive most of the day. It makes sense that we often fall into patterns of excessive worry or rumination.
HSPs need a type of authentic movement that encourages us to get out of our active brains and into our bodies, so that we can tap into the sensitive strength of our whole being.
Yoga is a great option; you have to engage your mind and body to execute the poses. Due to your HSP nature, you’ll notice the subtle nuances of the poses and may feel the emotional impact of yoga more deeply. Yoga requires a mix of concentration and surrendering to your body’s wisdom.
4) Yoga encourages HSPs to make adjustments and accommodations for their unique needs.
There is a popular meme of a woman in child’s pose (a common yoga post associated with rest) in the middle of a grocery store aisle. The caption says “My yoga teacher told me to take child’s pose whenever I needed.” This meme demonstrates a common encouragement in yoga classes – listen to your body and rest when you need to.
As HSPs, there are so many variables that play into how we feel from day to day. How much you slept, what you ate, your stress level, any injuries, and how emotions show up in your body all play into what we bring to the yoga mat. Thus, HSPs need a setting where they can honor whatever their body is able to do in that moment.
The right yoga class for an HSP is one where the teacher encourages you to listen to your body and offers ways to adjust the poses for what your body needs. You can make the poses as challenging or rejuvenating as you need in order to support your Sensitive or Sensation-Seeking temperament.
HSP must pick the studio, classes, teachers, and schedule carefully. If you don’t find the right studio or teacher, yoga can be overstimulating, harsh, and overwhelming. Look for smaller class sizes, studios without mirrors, minimal furnishings, gentle music, and – perhaps most importantly – a yoga teacher that is invested in you as a person, not just a number. Most studios will allow you to try out a few classes for free before committing.
If you have experienced any kind of trauma or abuse, being in your body (including yoga) can be triggering or re-traumatizing. If you are in recovery from disordered eating, being in your body can also be difficult. Some HSPs are especially susceptible to chronic illness or autoimmune conditions which make physical movement painful. Thus, I encourage you to trust your innate knowledge around what your body does and doesn’t need. You know what is helpful in your recovery process.
You also might have noticed how this article is free of the phrases ‘exercise’ or ‘working out’. This is intentional. These terms can have unhelpful connotations for people in recovery from eating disorders and fails to truly capture the soulful essence of what can achieved by moving your body. Consider the vocabulary you use as well when describing your routine.
As you start you access your body, emotions will come up, especially for HSPs. If you are considering starting up some kind of joyful movement or soulful movement on a regular basis, it may be helpful to have this coincide with the support of a trained mental health professional who can support you as triggers or difficult memories rise. You might also consider trauma-informed yoga. Always consult with your doctor or medical provider before starting anything new, as well.
Your Sensitivity is a Strength
Whatever route you decide to go for your wellness as an HSP, I encourage you to balance it out with deep and meaningful relationships, time for solitude and reflection, and ample amount of sleep and downtime. You deserve to enjoy being in your body as much as the next person and embracing all the your sensitivity has to offer.
What is your experience as a HSP with joyful or authentic movement? How do you ensure there is a purposeful or soulful quality to your physical wellness? What barriers do you experience with enjoying your body as a HSP?
Looking for an HSP-knowledgable therapist to help you learn to manage overwhelm and uncover your purpose? Schedule a free consultation now.
Arianna Smith MA, LPC