Fretting over paying the bills, keeping your job, making those last-minute deadlines, maybe even keeping your kids out of trouble? It’s impossible to be unaffected by the trials and tribulations of everyday strife. Here’s how yoga can help.
HOW YOGA HELPS
Managing your personal daily anxiety or depression means learning to identify symptoms (rapid heart rate, flushed face, breathlessness, down moods), witnessing these symptoms without reacting to them, and then releasing stress. Stress management, is, simply, a daily process of letting go of tension stored in the body and mind. Without this letting go process, we become candidates for ulcers, heart attacks, migraines and premature aging: all known to be caused by stress.
In this busy information society, we are constantly bombarded by external stimuli. Yoga can help tune out the exterior world, and allow participants to drop inside their bodies, and find a place of stillness with the relaxing sound of their own deep breathing. We learn to increase the probability of desired moods, and feelings through our heightened self-awareness, while simultaneously decreasing negative states of anxiety.
The deep breathing and holding postures of yoga (even listening to calming music) will allow you to discover and experience how you individually hold emotions, thoughts and experiences in your body. Yoga (even walking your dog for 20 minutes or learning how to meditate before we get out of bed in the morning) also allow you to tune into different moods, feelings, attitudes, and states of consciousness beside the low-grade stress levels that most people in society operate under. Excess of stress can also result in an extended period of hormonal “flight or fight syndrome” which can, over time, weaken the adrenal glands and cause sleeplessness, fatigue and even weight gain.
Combating stress is a daily endeavor and we can use yoga postures sprinkled liberally throughout our day to do this.
Remember: It’s the little things we do that cumulatively add up to excellent mind-and-body health. Here at YogaFit, we consider yoga practice to be a form of technology for getting back in touch with our true essence. Consistent practice—even in 5-minute bursts throughout the day can bring us back to remembering the health and wholeness that is our natural state of being. Yoga, when broken down to its most simple form is breathing and feeling. Through this breathing and feeling we learn to control our reactions to events and people. It is not the events and people in your life that provides stress but the way you react to them.
What makes yoga unique in terms of stress reduction is in its multifaceted approach. By working at the physical and psychological levels concurrently, yoga reduces stress at each level and this reduction in stress is supported by the work done at other levels. Yoga postures combined with deep breathing facilitate deep relaxation that combats daily anxiety stress.
YOGA FOR THE PHYSICAL
Yoga massages the skeletal system which supports bone mass and growth while taking the stress away from the supporting muscles and tendons. Yoga mechanically removes tension from the muscles through stretching. Steady, even yoga breathing reduces stress levels in the body, which is most often accompanied by rapid, shallow breathing. Yoga encourages deep diaphragmatic breathing, activating a relaxation response. Yoga also massages the internal organs, reducing high blood pressure and stress in the cardiovascular system at the level of the heart, arteries and blood. The nerve pathways are massaged and stretched through yoga, conducting messages throughout the body. Of course, yoga also strengthens all major muscle groups and greatly enhances flexibility and injury prevention as well.
YOGA FOR THE EMOTIONAL
Emotionally the body believes what the mind believes. Affirmations about peace, calm, and tranquility, along with positive imagery, are conveyed to the nervous system. Yoga brings greater patience to relationships with other people, work life, home life and all relationships. As you begin to explore these relationships more, you’ll see which interactions genuinely support you in moving towards calmness. As you become more relaxed through yoga, you’ll release addictive behaviors, which are often mistakenly used to relieve stress.
Yoga brings awareness to the emotional blocks that limit your experience of life. Our perception of life has been conditioned by our experiences and sometimes we close ourselves off from feelings and emotions. Through yoga we all learn to bring awareness to all parts of ourselves with the understanding that through integration, we come to a natural place of balance. Many of our stressful habit patterns are conditioned. Yoga teaches a whole set of patterns which are helpful in reducing stress.
5 DAILY YOGA POSTURES FOR STRESS
Either do a couple poses several times a day, prior to a stressful event to stay calm or link them together for a longer de-stressing session.
1. Chest expansion (anti-aging, mood-elevating and expanding, great for posture and flexibility)
- From a standing position, bring arms behind back and interlace fingers.
- Draw arms away from the body.
- At the same time, draw shoulders down and back.
- Open heart center and breathe deeply into lungs.
- Activate the back muscles and close your eyes.
- Hold for ten deep breaths and make sure and exhale fully.
- Repeat several times throughout the day.
2. Seated spinal twist (aids digestion, improves internal organ function, stretches the mid-back and waistline)
- From a seated position, extend legs.
- Draw right knee into and towards body.
- Wrap left arm around bent leg, looking over right shoulder.
- Hold for five deep breaths.
- Repeat on other side sitting up very straight and tall.
- Using your arm in back as leverage on the floor, twist deeper on each exhale.
- After 5 to 10 breaths, switch sides and repeat.
3. Knees to chest (soothes anxiety and stomach upset almost instantly)
- Lie back on your mat.
- Gently draw both knees into your chest.
- Press hands under the knees lightly to deepen your stretch.
- Rock slowly from one side of back to the other.
- Massage the organs and spine for 10 long, deep breaths.
4. Lying down spinal twist (relieves low back and neck discomfort)
- Be in knees to chest position as above.
- Keep right knee into chest, and slowly extend left leg.
- Draw right knee over straight leg towards floor.
- Look over right shoulder.
- Breathe into your lower low back.
- Don’t force or push; just release and breathe.
- Hold for 5 to 10 deep breaths and then switch sides.
Ideal to do after running, walking or any cardio session to allow muscles and heart rate to recover without adding any stress into your day.
5. Inversions such as Shoulderstand or supported Headstand (anti-aging pose, great for jet lag, hangovers and tension headaches)
- Be in knees to chest position, as above.
- Support your low back with both hands.
- Engage the belly to draw legs overhead and then slowly towards the sky, one by one.
- Keep your abs, back and hips engaged as you fully extend legs to sky.
- Keep feet flexed and leg muscles firm.
- Keep neck stationary at all times; do not look around.
- Hold for 10 breaths.
- Release slowly by bringing legs over head and rolling out one vertebrae at a time.
- Return to knees to chest position to stabilize the back muscles.
- Regulate your breath and realign the spine.
For a related piece on Coping with Anxiety, see Anxiety Mouse.
As one of the most successful women entrepreneurs in the wellness – Yoga and Fitness space, Beth Shaw has successfully run YogaFit and its related brands for the past two decades. Through the continuous development of YogaFit, Shaw remains at the forefront of offering programs and certification courses that are innovative and educational. Beth Shaw is the best-selling author of YogaFit, YOGALEAN and YogaFit Athlete. Shaw has become a go-to expert in the media and has been featured in numerous fitness, business and consumer publications including Parade, Huffington Post, Expert Beacon, New York Times, Time, LA Times, USA Today, Entrepreneur, SELF, Mind Body Green, FIT and Yoga Journal.