Can yoga really help with stress?
Having seen an increase in anxiety and stress in the past few years with those I’ve encountered along the way, friends and family members, it has become clear to me that for many their pace of life appears to them to be speeding up and they feel that they are losing control. We live in world where pressure arises from various areas, whether in work, at home, school, relationships, families or simply the pressure we put on ourselves to achieve, succeed or live up to. We seem to spend more time fulfilling deadlines and demands and less time investing in ourselves, our own mental health and physical wellbeing.
By not investing time in ourselves to de-stress and replenish our stress cup keeps getting more and more full until we reach the point of eruption. And only at this breaking point are many seeking help to handle their stress levels, when the volcano has already erupted and lava is running down the hill. Some have no idea how stressed they are as they are so used to living in that stressful arena that it becomes the norm and only when their nervous system goes into overdrive and short-circuits manifesting physical issues, high blood pressure, heart palpitations etc do they realise the need to take a breather and focus on creating a more harmonious lifestyle for themselves.
We only have to take note of the safety presentation on any aeroplane to see. ‘Put your mask on before you try to help anyone else’. Which makes perfect sense when you hear it on a plane as how can you help others if you do not have enough reserves yourself? But in everyday life some find it difficult to take care of their own needs first.
We are seeing a rise in stress related illnesses whether in the workplace or school environment because many simply don’t know how to relieve their stress other than opting for quick fixes available to them through drink, drugs or simply just keeping on going on that treadmill.
Yoga doesn’t have all the answers, it won’t get your paper finished by the short deadline that you have been given but it may help you to start looking at things a little differently. It may teach you the tools to build your resilience so that situations do not affect you as much by helping you detach from stressful situations enough for you to see the event as a spectator rather than a participant. And when you do, this really does alter your way of experiencing the situation.
What is Yoga and why do teachers always speak about the breath?
Yoga is much more than just throwing a few shapes on the mat, it’s a way of life. With pranayama you learn to breathe, I mean really breathe. When we are stressed our breath becomes shallower, as our breath and state of mind are linked. When we are in a stressful situation our brain sends signals through our nervous system to get our body in preparation to either fight, freeze or leg it as fast as we can. Therefore if we can put our body into a fight or flight mode through stress then surely we can reverse the process and bring ourselves back into a calmer state by lengthening and deepening our breath.
By learning to breathe deeply into our belly we tap into the parasympathetic nerve receptors in the lower lobes of our lungs which helps to put us into our rest and digest state rather than our fight or flight. Breath on its own can really help us to alter our state of mind and yoga guides us through these relaxation techniques.
What does yoga mean?
Yoga was discovered over 5000 years ago in India in the ancient scripts the ‘Vedas’ which are written in Sanskrit. The word yoga in Sanskrit means to ‘yoke’ or ‘unite’. There are many different views out there on what this actually means. Some feel it means a union of the body and mind, others feel it is more connecting our individual consciousness to our spiritual self. Whatever it actually means, it’s about connections and after all everything is energetically connected. There is a connection between everything that if visible would look like a never ending circuit board of energetic wires leading from one thing to another. The practice of yoga teaches us to connect our body, breath and spirit through meditation, movement through asanas and breath work. It teaches us to be comfortable being uncomfortable helping to build resilience and helping us grow by stepping out of our comfort zone. It teaches us to balance our body and our mind by not reacting and starting to just observe more and it helps us to be mindful living in the here and now with gratitude rather than in the past or future with regret or fear.
What about Meditation?
Can mediation help with stress you say? Well so research has shown the more we meditate the less anxiety and stress we have and apparently the results of a daily 20 minute meditation have proved to be long lasting even after participants stopped meditating. Those suffering from anxiety have been found to have an increase in the size of their amygdala and with daily meditation the amygdala has been shown to decrease in size. As research has proven we have the ability to change our brain through neuroplasticity and altering the connections between the neurons in our brain, in effect retraining our brain, and meditation helps us to achieve this.
So what are you waiting for? With the New Year approaching, isn’t it time to start stripping back those layers we all create for ourselves over time and find the ‘true you’.