7 ways yoga can help you beat stress

Here's why yoga is a fantastic tool against stress, tension and worry.

1. It teaches us to breathe

Yes, we all know how to breathe, but most of us don’t know how to use our breath in a way that keeps us calm. No matter what yoga class you are in, there is always an emphasis on breathing slowly and deeply into your belly. We learn that this practice is available to us all the time, not just while we’re on the mat.

2. It gets us out of our head and into our body

We spend so much time in our heads. Always thinking, analysing, planning, fantasising. In yoga we focus the attention away from our minds and into our bodies. By doing this we are giving ourselves much needed space, so when we come back to the nagging problem that has been running through our mind for hours, we might see it with fresh eyes.

3. It calms down our overactive stress response

It’s well known that yoga can calm us down. By getting on the mat, our usually overactive flight/fight response shifts to the more chilled rest/ digest response, and the effects of this are felt long after we leave the studio.

“Yoga is about being in the present – right with this breath, in this moment.”

4. It focuses on being here now

So much of our time is spent either thinking about the past or worrying about the future. In fact, a study from Harvard University says we spend almost 48% of our time in this mind-wandering state, and we are far less likely to be happy or content when this is happening. Yoga is about being in the present – right with this breath, in this moment. This has a powerful effect on our ability to be happy and content regardless of what struggles we face in our life.

5. It allows us to completely switch off from the hectic pace of life

There are not many places these days where phones and technology aren’t welcome. Yoga is one of these places. What a wondrous thing it is to arrive in a space and know that for the next hour you are completely offline, totally out of contact and wholly giving back to yourself.

6. It teaches us about accepting difficult feelings, rather than resisting

Yoga helps us notice that sometimes resisting what we don’t like makes things all the more difficult. Have you ever noticed how when you tense against a difficult pose like the pigeon, the whole body tenses as well? Yet when we open to the experience and surrender to the uncomfortable sensation, the body softens and the experience becomes something we can handle.

This is a lesson that teaches us about how we meet other challenges in life and how we might find new ways of approaching what we least like.

7. It gives us a space to set down our worries

I remember a stress management seminar where the lecturer held out a glass and asked how heavy the glass was. He got many answers, but in the end he said, “It matters not how heavy the glass is, but how long you hold it for. Hold it for an hour and your arm will begin to hurt. Hold it for 24 hours and you might need to call an ambulance!”

In the same way, when we come to a yoga class we are given permission to set our worries down. And yes, those worries might still be there at the end of the class, but by then we have rested ourselves enough to perhaps see that we need to carry them differently – or perhaps not pick them up again at all.

Recommended reading - Issue Nine Spring 2014

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