Stress, the joy-robbing, health-stealing scourge of modern society, can have a dramatic effect on your quality of life. If you develop a proactive stress management plan, you can overcome this burdensome side effect of our hyper-connected world.
One of the best ways to manage stress is through developing a solid yoga practice. Through yoga, you will not only find ways to preemptively lower your stress levels, but you will also arm yourself with tools to turn your stress into positive energy.
How Does Stress Affect You?
We often regard stress as negative, but stress is adaptively advantageous for us. When an early hominids perceived threats, their sympathetic nervous systems (SNS) activated. The SNS pumps the body with epinephrine and norepinephrine.
These hormones are responsible for many of the symptoms that you experience when you are nervous, including sweating and increased heart rate. The stress response enabled early hominids to escape danger.
You may have noticed that a little bit of stress can give you a competitive edge or an energy boost. Problems with stress arise because your body can’t tell the difference between being in mortal danger and having an overflowing inbox. If you can’t get your SNS in check, poor sleep, weight gain or weight loss, and adrenal fatigue can arise.
The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit for “yoking” or “union.” Yoga is a set of practices that is ideally suited to transform your stress into positive energy.
When we perform the physical practice (asana), we are joining our mind and body for a singular purpose. Our culture makes it easy for us to ignore signals that our body gives us but yoga encourages us to reforge the connection between the mind and body.
Through yoga, you will not only notice how your body responds to stress-causing situations, but you may also find ways to curtail your stress response.
The mind-body connection is evident if you have ever attempted a balancing posture such as Lord of the Dance pose (natarajasana) or Extended-Hand-to-Big-Toe pose (utthita hasta padangusthasa).
Your ability to balance correlates with the stillness of your mind and your breath-control. A monkey-mind gone amok is a recipe for imbalance. When the mind and body are acting in union, you are much more likely to perform these postures safely.
Exercise of any type can lower stress. When an early hominid’s SNS was activated, he or she usually put those stress hormones to work in the form of a physical feat, like running from a predator.
When you get a stressful call at work, you may have nowhere to channel your excess energy. An intense “yang” yoga practice such as a vinyasa flow or Ashtanga class can allow you to burn off some stress while you are doing something good for your body.
Certain restorative postures, such as Legs-Up-the-Wall pose (viparita karani) and Supported Shoulderstand (salamba sarvangasana) activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). When the PNS is engaged, you will notice a calming effect throughout your body.
Yin yoga, which is slower than its yang counterpart, involves staying in restorative postures and deep stretches for longer periods of time in order to induce a calming effect. A robust yoga practice incorporates yin and yang elements to burn off stress and encourages a calmer state of being.
Yoga is more than just physical exercise. This multifaceted practice consists of eight traditional limbs. Pranayama, or the management of your breath and life force, is another essential limb of the practice.
Yoga practitioners know that mastering breathing techniques is the key to advancing, maintaining concentration, and working through difficult postures.
Breath control techniques easily transfer off the mat and into your everyday life. When you notice your body having a stress response, you can use a breathing technique such as equal-parts breathing (sama vritti) to calm your nerves.
Meditation (Dhyana) is another of the eight limbs of yoga. Meditation makes your brain younger, alters how you perceive yourself in relation to the rest of the world, and it reduces stress.
When you see the world in a different way, stress may be less likely to arise in the first place. When it does, yoga has again given you an avenue to repel your stress response.
Most yoga classes are not long enough to have a dedicated meditation portion. If you want to reap the stress-reducing benefits of yoga, then you should make an effort to learn about meditation. You can apply meditation techniques if you find that your stress levels are preventing you from functioning in a productive manner.
Check out this brief beginners guide to meditation to get an idea of what mediation is all about.
If you find it difficult to handle the stress in your life, a strong yoga practice can help you transform your stress into positive energy. Through yin and yang aspects of the physical practice, breathwork, and meditation, you can reduce your stress and turn your stress into productivity.