Yoga can help alleviate stress, strengthen core
Stress is a part of life, and learning to manage it will help lessen negative effects that it can have on your health. Stress can lead to illness and ailments, as well as depression. Prolonged exposure can lead to premature aging, illness and erratic emotions and, in some cases, disease. Breath observation, asanas or postures, and meditation can ease symptoms of stress and anxiety when practiced on a regular basis. These techniques are used in the philosophy and practice of yoga.
A regular yoga practice can alleviate the symptoms of stress and create harmony in the mind and body, but it is important to choose a yoga that fits your needs. There are many styles of classes out there to choose from – Ashtanga, Iyengar, Bikram and Vinyasa flow, to name a few.
When you are under high levels of stress, feel fatigued or are recovering from an illness or injury, take a restorative yoga class or a beginner class such as lyengar, which uses props. If you are looking for something to compliment an active lifestyle then a class that practices a more traditional posture sequence, like Ashtanga or Bikram may be right for you.
Take a moment to observe the depth of your breath. Is it shallow or deep? If your breath is shallow try to lengthen it by inhaling to a count of five or higher and then exhaling the same number until it becomes more even. Practice this for 3 to 5 minutes. Taking time to watch your breath and actively increase the length of your breath will bring more oxygen to the brain.
Yoga asana, or postures, can reduce physical and mental stress by relaxing the central nervous system, respiratory, and digestive systems. Movement, combined with breath exercises called “pranayama,” will bring blood to areas that need increased circulation and therefore improve blood pressure and stabilize the heart rate.
Sit and meditate for five to 10 minutes. Although this may be challenging if you don’t like to sit still, give it try. Do your best to be comfortable by sitting on cushions that support your spine and sit cross-legged, sit on your heels or in a chair. Then breathe naturally, inhale silently say to yourself, “let” and exhale say to yourself “go” and let go of the chatter in your mind. If you have an affirmation that you already connect with then use it. Otherwise, continue to focus on the breath and words. At first, a thought or an external sound may distract your mind. That’s OK, simply come back to your breath and let go.
Here are two restorative asanas that can be practiced at home:
- Downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Root your hands on the ground and press your heels toward the ground, lift your buttocks up. Distribute the body weight evenly between the hands and feet. Hold this position for 1-2 minutes and remember to breathe through the nose. Release to the ground and rest in child’s pose then sit up slowly.
- Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Lie flat on your back with your arms at a 45-degree angle with the palms face up. Feet are at least one foot and a half apart and little toe falling toward the ground. Legs are straight and relaxed. To release any tension in the head and neck gently roll the head from side to side a few times. Then bring the head back to center and focus on the breath, mind and relax all the muscles in the face. Close your eyes and breathe through the nose, focus inward. Remain here for 5-10 minutes.
Learning to manage your own personal stressors is an important skill that requires awareness and knowing yourself. Practicing yoga regularly will help this process. Remember to practice with kindness and positivity toward yourself and you will begin to see the changes on the mat and in your daily life.