The way I see it, stress isn’t something we can entirely avoid. In fact it kinda goes with the territory of being a person doesn’t it? A little bit of short term stress may actually be quite helpful in certain situations, but stress that goes beyond the short term quite frankly, sucks.
Prolonged stress takes its toll physically, emotionally and mentally and can affect everything from sleep, digestion, libido and our relationships.
Bubble baths are great, but as important as it is to find a releasing outlet, it’s also super important to find tools that help reduce the impact stressful situations have on us. And this, my friends, is where yoga can be a massive help. Check these out.
1. Relax The Body.
Yoga practiced in the right way can be as soothing as a hug or a massage when it comes to reducing tension and relaxing the physical body. Certain postures have a deeply calming effect on the whole system, particularly forward bends and inversions.
I need to single out Balasana (Child’s Pose) here because of it’s wonderful ability to soothe the adrenal glands and create internal and external calm. Restorative and Yin are great styles for practicing the art of letting go as is Shavasana/relaxation at the end of a yoga class.
2. Relax The Mind.
When we are stressed out or anxious, the mind becomes busy -- often to the point of frantic. Learning to focus the mind on one thing at a time may seem like the most difficult thing in the world, but with practice, it becomes easier. How?
Meditation is an incredibly powerful tool for relaxing and slowing down the mind as is any kind of breath awareness. Whether you’re holding postures, flowing through sequences, or in a seated meditation pose, everything begins to focus and slow down when you take your awareness to the breath. Over time and with repeated practice, you start to develop new habits towards a more relaxed internal state.
3. Breathe More Effectively.
Stress and tension can cause us to breathe in a rapid, shallow way, which can lead to more anxiety. Yoga gives you the opportunity to breathe more effectively, using the diaphragm and utilising the whole lung capacity.
Certain Pranayama techniques are useful for reducing stress, particularly Brahmari (humming bee breath), Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril) and Ujjayi (victorious) breath. Left nostril breath can have an internalising and calming effect too.
4. Develop Connection Between The Mind And Body.
When the mind and body are connected, there’s generally a greater sense of harmony and ease in our lives. The body sends important signals when something is off balance, which happens so often when we are under pressure. Having the ability to respond is therefore really important for our wellbeing.
Yoga teaches us to be sensitive to each movement and to listen to our bodies. The practice encourages us to exist in the present moment and to live in a more mindful, conscious and connected way.
5. Understand How Your Mind Works.
For me this point is the most crucial when it comes to long-term stress management, as so much of our stress comes from the way our minds turn. When we let our minds run on auto-pilot mode, that is to live unconsciously, we are at the mercy of our conditioning.
Yoga can help us develop awareness of how our own unique mind works and that awareness can help us live in a more conscious way. As an example, when we are in a challenging place on the yoga mat, awareness lets us see how our mind responds to stress. Our reaction might be to immediately pull out of the pose. Or perhaps it’s to push ourselves further. It might be to get angry at the teacher, or it might be to roll up the mat and get the hell out of there.
By developing awareness over our mind patterns in response to stress, we give ourselves the opportunity to be less affected by them, and to consciously choose another response. I am calm, all is well.
6. Release Emotional Energy.
Negative emotions like fear, anger and guilt can cause stress, particularly if they are not expressed. A build up of anything creates pressure. Emotional pressure often gets released in an unrefined way, such as shouting at your partner, snapping at a work colleague or getting unreasonably fired up that you got a cappuccino when you ordered a vanilla latte!
We actually release emotional energy really effectively throughout our yoga practice, even if you’re not aware of it. Postures that release the hips and shoulders (where we commonly store emotional tension) are particularly effective.
If you feel a bit wound up, try taking a hip opening yoga class and notice how you feel afterwards. If any residual emotions come up, notice them and then simply spend a few minutes letting them go via the exhalation.
I have a long history with ongoing and at times chronic stress. In my experience, I have found yoga and meditation to be the most effective and by far, the most enjoyable tools to unwind and relax internally and externally. As I’ve mentioned, stress is not something we can completely shelter from, but through yoga and meditation we can learn how to reduce the impact stressful situations have and set ourselves up for a much happier, healthier and more chilled out future. Om yeah!