Between rush hour, workday overload, family crises, friend drama and who knows what else, stress is a huge part of our every day lives. If you’re feeling worn out a little yoga can go a long way. In fact, dedicating just a few minutes a day in the morning, at lunch or in the evening can do wonders for minimizing stress and increasing productivity.
Here’s how it works. If you were to talk to your doctor about strategies for managing your stress or anxiety, they would probably talk to you about one or all of these:
- Controlled Breathing
- Mental Imagery
- Physical Movement & Stretching
These strategies have been medically proven to help with stress and anxiety levels, and they are all used in the different types of yoga. On top of drawing upon these de-stress techniques, yoga teaches you to utilize the mind/body/spirit connection and access your inner strength.
Breathing exercises are the most commonly recommended relaxation techniques taught to those with clinical anxiety. Yoga teaches very specific breathing patterns (called pranayama) that help us to coax our bodies from high alert into that “resting” state. For example, the Complete Breath is a yoga technique that allows you to fill up with oxygen in a very deep and calming breath. This breathing technique can be utilized to take a step back during a tense moment or to de-stress after a long day. To learn more about how to practice the Complete Breath, check out the video below.
“Go to your happy place,” might be the best way to describe this stress-reducing technique. Mental imagery is taking a moment to picture a place, person or time that makes you feel relaxed or happy. This practice does, however, utilize more than your sense of sight. Let’s say you draw up memories of the beach in order to relax. In mental imagery you’re not just looking at the waves, you’re hearing them crash against the rocks and breathing in the salty sea breeze. One of the ways yoga utilizes mental imagery is by guiding you through images of stress leaving your body or of your problems being “put away.” Picturing a place or action that quiets your mind allows you to settle your body and de-stress.
The practice of meditation is all about quieting the mind, reducing negative emotions and gaining perspective. Yoga’s inward focus makes all types of yoga meditative in nature. Kundalini is one of the spiritual types of yoga and consists of a large variety of meditation techniques. Check out the video below for more on how to practice meditation.
Physical Movement & Stretching
Getting your body moving releases endorphins and allows you to shed your daily stressors. Whether you enjoy swimming, running or boxing the resulting stress relief will be the same. In Yoga the poses and movements are called Asana. Whether you want to focus on the meditative side of yoga or get in a physically demanding workout, there is a type of yoga to suit your needs. In Hatha yoga you will be holding the poses for a short time while a faster paced Vinyasa yoga class has you flow through the movements.
Let’s look at it this way. Your nervous system has several branches, but the sympathetic and parasympathetic are directly involved with your stress levels. You might remember from school that the sympathetic system is the home of the fight or flight response and the parasympathetic system is utilized when the body is at rest. Our bodies read stress as a reaction to emergencies and so it amps up into fight or flight mode even when it is something less than life-threatening, such as preparing for an interview or rushing to meet a deadline.
The parasympathetic system is your body at rest. When we go through our lives and things are moving smoothly and stress is at a minimum, we are in the parasympathetic state. So, in order to minimize stress we just have to spend more time in the parasympathetic state. Problem is our bodies shift between these two states automatically and we can’t control it. However, we can use the techniques described above in order to relax into a parasympathetic state and live happier lives.
If you’re stressed out and desperate for a solution, try just fifteen minutes of yoga a day. Even that small commitment will decrease your stress levels and help you live your life to the fullest.