Yoga for Stress
Look, we know in an ideal world we would all be living stress-free, Instagrammable lives. But the reality of life is that stress exists in everyone’s world. Whether it’s short-term or a long-stay visitor that won’t leave, everyone encounters it, everyone has to deal with it.
Prolonged stress has serious effects on you, both physically and emotionally. Symptoms of long-term stress include; irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches and insomnia. But even short-term stress can wreak havoc on your body. Headaches, sore muscles, indigestion, pounding heart, stomach ache. Stress increases your chances of heart attacks and makes you more susceptible to type 2 diabetes. It lowers your immune system and causes fertility issues.
No doubt you already know all the downsides to stress and are sat there thinking to yourself, “Ok genius, tell me how to deal with my stress.” Would you be surprised if we said “yoga”? Did you know the word “yoga” means cessation of the fluctuations of the mind? “Citta Vritti Nirodha”. From your first yoga class, you’ll understand your practice provides relaxation for both your mind and body. You will have practised your breathing and started to tie it to your body’s movements. Focusing on your movements, on one simple thing, is the very foundation of meditation. Unity-Yoga!
This unity between your body and your mind will help to provide you with key tools for dealing with stress. Most people live primarily in either their head or their body. When your mind and body are connected, you can recognise even small issues disturbing the balance in your life. Yoga teaches us to be sensitive to our bodies and our minds. Listening to your mind allows you control over it, the ability to live in a conscious frame of mind. It allows you to choose how you react to stress.
And you know what else it does? Yoga teaches self-compassion. When you’re feeling stressed out, a really good exercise is to ask yourself “Where is the stress coming from?” Start asking yourself that question and notice how many times the answer has to do with you being too hard on yourself. Do you feel like you’re not succeeding at what you’re doing? Do you feel like you’re letting other people down? Are you frustrated with other people? Yoga teaches you to be less judgemental, of yourself, of others. Can you think of a better tool for releasing stress from your life?
Previously, we focused on how the union between body, breathe and mind could help you cope better with stress. We’re going to hazard a guess that you weren’t hugely surprised by this suggestion. But yoga is also very physical – did you know the asanas (poses) themselves can help relieve stress?
We hold a substantial amount of physical tension in our hips and shoulders. Any class that focuses on opening up these areas will automatically release a tremendous amount of physical tension. But there are poses that have much more subtle benefits. Poses that work the spine also help release stress by stretching those tight muscles. But they also provide gentle massage to internal organs such as the kidneys, liver and adrenal glands stimulating hormone regulation.
Lengthening the spine is fantastic for releasing stress. Practice it now – sit up straighter, elongate your neck by pulling your head up, drop your shoulders and pull them back to open your chest. Now slump for a minute and then pull yourself back up. Can you feel the difference in your breathing? Stress brings our shoulders up under our ears – we all know they don’t belong there.
Opening up the front of the chest is hugely beneficial and also allows the heart to become more open. Allowing for that self compassion to start to unfold. If you spend most of your day at a desk, this part of your body tends to get very closed down due to rounding your back. Practicing these poses using deep, yogic, rhythmic breathing from the belly, instead of the shallow chest breathing we tend to do. Brings a deeper sense of calm to our bodies and minds, lowering our blood pressure and ultimately our stress levels.
When practising yoga, always allow time for Savasana or corpse pose. Not only is this deeply relaxing, it allows your body time to rebalance and absorb all the fresh prana/ life force you have just ignited in your body. During this time on the mat, pay close attention to the sense of ease and openness you feel. And then take that feeling with you into your everyday life, a ready tool to calm the fluctuations of the mind, which life brings to us every day!