December 21 | The Practice | The results |
Stress is a part of everyday life. From work deadlines and traffic jams to family disagreements and over-packed schedules, it can seem like stressful situations are around every corner. Soon, your shoulders are up around your ears and your heart is pounding with each new obstacle. While it’s impossible to make stress disappear entirely, you can learn to manage it successfully. The skills you gain in your yoga classes help you navigate stressful situations with more ease, allowing you to work with your body to reduce the impact of stress on your well being.
Yoga can have a significant impact on reducing your stress level because it’s a physical and mental practice. Yoga teaches you to use your mind and body together in yoga sequences, allowing your breath to guide you. When you’re experiencing stress, your mind can get the better of you, causing physical responses to that mental experience. Your palms sweat, your blood pressure increases and you may feel antsy. However, if you can influence those physical responses by staying present and using your skills, you can turn those stress responses around.
Think about the times you’ve been told to breathe when stress was taking over. We hear it again and again: “Just breathe.” Now think about how you use your breath in yoga. When class gets challenging or a pose is intense, you use your breath to calm your body, so you experience the challenge without panicking. The same pranayama you use in yoga is also effective in managing stress in your everyday life. Mindful breathing helps you feel braver, calmer and clearer.
Similarly, yoga teaches you to adjust your body in poses to minimize unnecessary strain or energy output. As you practice, your instructor regularly reminds you to relax your shoulders, loosen your neck or stop clenching your jaw. These same reminders become incredibly useful in times of stress—just the simple act of unclenching your jaw can help you feel better about facing a stressful situation. As simple as it seems, small physical movements can have a big impact on how you perceive stress. Even when you feel worried or frightened, small adjustments allow you to feel stronger and safely go further.
Finally, yoga teaches mindfulness. When you experience stress, it’s easy to give too much power to the physical sensation of it. You can become overwhelmed by your nervous system’s response to stress and the physical and mental toll can snowball. Yoga helps you focus on being present in the moment so you can understand what is truly going on. While you may want to panic when you’re overwhelmed, remaining mindful about what you can control and how you can move forward can significantly reduce stress-induced symptoms. You can’t always control situations, but you can control how you react to them.