From the desk of Chantale Bondoux:
But how exactly does it relieve our stress…
Although here in the “western” world we first embraced Yogaas a form of exercise~ a way to stay fit and flexible~ the spiritual and healing aspects of yoga reveal themselves quickly with a consistent practice.
And now more than ever, in addition to the amazing physical and physiological aspects of the yoga practice…many people turn to Yoga primarily for stress management.
Stress relief is huge issue in our society and especially for women- who race through their lives in a constant multi-tasking state of over extending themselves and under protecting their boundaries. We are now so aware of how chronic stress can lead to a variety of serious health and emotional problems.
Yoga has long been known to be a great antidote to these health concerns.
But how does this really occur in a yoga practice….What is the connection between the physical (asana) practice of Yoga and the spiritual roots of this ancient practice…and how does it reduce the effects of stress and anxiety.
There are many different types of yoga ~ some are slow and more focused on stretching (Hatha) others are fast and more of a workout (Ashtanga). If you are looking to relieve stress, no one yoga style is superior, but it is important to choose one that meets your level of physical fitness and personality style.
Any exercise will help relieve stress by keeping the body healthy and releasing endorphins, the body’s natural hormones that make you feel better.
Yoga takes exercise a step further by also incorporating specific stretching or opening techniques. When you are stressed, tension is stored in the body making you feel tight and often causing pain. The intense stretching of yoga releases tension from problem areas of our body that holds our stress.
But Yoga truly comes to us and de-stresses us beyond the physiological benefits of exercise. It is a path practice to emotional health and spiritual awakenings. By combining exercise and stretching (asana) with the techniques of breath work (pranayama), clearing the mind, and total relaxation (savasana) ~ yoga is truly a holistic approach to stress management.
Breath Work (pranayama) ~ is an integral part of any yoga practice and one that translates well to life off the mat. Yoga increases your awareness of the breath as a tool for relaxing the body. Although breathing is an involuntary act (you have to keep doing it to stay alive), in yoga you choose to regulate the breath and to pay attention to your breathing patterns. Simply learning to breathe deeply and bring awareness to this deep breath is an amazing effective way to diffuse stressful situations in everyday life. By “practicing” breath awareness and control in Yoga, this “tool” for effective stress management becomes second nature and can easily be accessed in anxious or stressful environments.
Clearing the Mind ~Our minds are constantly active, racing from one thought to another, spinning possible scenarios for the future, dwelling on incidents from the past. All this “mind chatter” can be tiring and is stressful. Yoga offers several techniques for taming this inner “chatter”. And they are based on the idea of being “present” or existing in the present moment.
Pranayama ~ Breath work not only relaxes and de-stress the physical body, breath work is an excellent way to focus on the present. By tying each breath to the present moment and turning your awareness to this current breath pattern, you are not breathing in the past or the future, but only right now. Focusing on each inhale and exhale to the exclusion of all other thoughts is one way to clear the mind. It is also a basic meditation technique.
Asana ~the performance of yoga poses also acts as a form of meditation. The poses are very physical, and are to be done with singular concentration, so as to gently “push” all other thoughts and worries aside. Focusing on your physical body and experiencing it in “this moment” without judgment, is a really effective way to clear your mind of outward distractions ~ giving your “chatter” mind a much-needed break.
Relaxation ~ Savasana (corpse pose) –most yoga practices end with this final relaxation posture. While this “enforced” relaxation can be a real challenge at first, eventually it serves the purpose of a total release for both body and mind. It is here that the “inner chatter” seems to become quite loud. What is important to consider, is even if outside thoughts or distractions intrude on this period of “quiet mind”, acknowledge them without judgment (I should…) and connect back to the breath and the physical sensation of your body in repose. Guided meditations and imagery are excellent techniques that help clear the mind and help you to be truly in the moment. Savasana is a wonderful way to transition back into your world feeling renewed and equipped with the tools to combat stress in your daily life.
The practice of yoga ~ moving through various body postures (asana), slow stretching movements, breathing exercises (prana) and then moving into relaxation, imagery and meditation (savasana)~Is so wonderfully beneficial to the our overall health and significantly reduces the effects of stress in our lives.
In addition, yoga has a cumulative effect. The more you ”practice” the more benefits you will experience physically and psychologically but more importantly – the consistent practice of yoga empowers you with stress management “tools” that you can access on and off the mat.
All the specific techniques of yoga culminate into a higher awareness of what is happening to you during times of stress – emotionally, physically, mentally and energetically. Yoga helps you develop an understanding of each part of the body and mind by being more aware of it. The yoga practice includes paying attention to each and every part of your present experience and truly provides a holistic approach to stress management.
So ~Breath~ Move~ and connect to the moment ~Yogahhh!
Vice-President of New Business Development
The SWAT Institute