We all have stress. But why do we get stressed? And what happens to us when we get stressed?
Check out this great video from mind body expert Craig Hassed MD: Stress and your body.
Yoga provides effective tools and techniques to address the stress response and perceptions of our stressors. I personally have been managing anxiety and stress successfully with yoga for many years now. Here’s a quick guide on how yoga can help.
Invoke the relaxation response:
Firstly, it’s important to address the body’s physiological response to stress as outlined by Craig. We can do this with practices that relax the nervous system and switch off the stress response. We can use the breath in specific ways, deeply relax the whole body and use movement to release tension. Working with the physical body impacts the nervous system and the mind, and vice versa.
It seems simple enough, and it is! Simply by bringing our attention to the breath, we become more aware of our being and what’s going on internally. We can also use the exhalation and inhalation in different ways to calm or energise.
Often when we are stressed we feel exhausted and all we want to do is relax or sleep, which is good for invoking the relaxation response, but we also need energy and strength to face difficult or busy times. We can choose specific yoga postures to increase energy, build confidence and make our bodies feel strong, like a warrior ready for battle.
On a very basic level stress is our response to the stressors we face. If we can change our relationship to what stresses us we will be better able to cope. Mindfulness is about becoming curious, being an inner scientist so we can see clearly what happens we get when we get caught up in our thoughts and the resulting behaviours. We can use formal meditation practices, mindful yoga and simple exercises (like the breath). With awareness we can learn to observe how we are feeling in the body, what thoughts are running in the mind, and create opportunity for better choices of action to rebalance.
Once you have a few tools and techniques you can apply these to different situations. For example:
- After a busy day at work you could do a few simple postures with the breath targeting the tense areas of your body followed by a brief relaxation to unwind.
- To set you up ready for the day ahead you could start with meditation, or a focused breathing exercise followed by a few energising postures.
- On the weekend when you have more time you could do a longer guided relaxation.
Simple, easy and effective practices done regularly WILL make a difference. It doesn’t matter if you can’t meditate like a zen monk or do a headstand. You can make stress your friend and take steps to help you with the full spectrum of life’s events.