April 5, 2021
8 WAYS YOGA SOOTHES STRESS
You may have come to practice yoga because you heard it helps with stress, maybe your doctor suggested it or maybe you were pulled into the practice by a friend!
Yoga helps soothe all the physiological changes that stress places on your body. In the Western world we are most familiar with two components of Yoga: The physical practice and meditation. However, there are deeper reasons why yoga is so powerful in the face of stress. Yoga gives us tools to yoke our mind, body and spirit. The best way to define this is to dive into the 8 limbs of yoga and investigate why each limb is perfectly positioned to soothe and manage stress.
The first and second limbs are codes of living called the yamas and niyamas. These are external and internal disciplines clarifying our relationship to the world and everything in it. The external practices (yamas) teach us to be kind, honest and generous, to practice cleanliness/tidiness (think Marie Kondo!) – and the internal disciplines (niyamas) teach us to respect ourselves body, mind, and spirit.
The third limb is asana – the physical practice or postures of yoga. Regular physical exercise and its benefits on stress is well documented and researched. The power of physical practice is not limited to the strong power/vinyasa practices – the softer practices of Yin and Restorative have a potent effect on our nervous system. And our nervous system is what is most affected by stress. Asana also allows us to link breath with movement and teaches us to embody steadiness and ease.
The fourth limb, pranayama is breath, our life force. The ancient yogis believed that if we control our breath, we control our mind. If we can control our mind, we have better tools to manage stress. Pranayama can be as simple as taking one or two deep breaths. The ability to stop, take a few deeper breaths helps us to reframe and take a more balanced approach to stress. Pranayama is a multifaceted practice with many options including alternate nostril breathing, box breathing…among many others! Breath is fundamental to yoga!
The fifth limb is pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses. Something that can truly drive up our stress response is our reactions to daily life. If we are constantly distracted and reactive to every impulse and sensation, we have no control. Pratyahara is the practice of becoming less reactive and having control over our senses.
The sixth limb is dharana or concentration & focus. This is achieved through fixed concentration on one object or sensation and avoiding distractions. Our modern world is filled with constant distractions – phone notifications, emails, to-do lists, the endless news cycle. This constant state of distraction ramps up our stress nervous system and stress levels! A dedicated meditation practice allows us to rewire our brain and improve our ability for focus and concentration.
The seventh limb is dhyana or meditation. – In building our focus & concentration we can step into a state of meditation. This state of meditation is defined as being able to see reality as it is – impermanent and interconnected. This deep state of meditation allows us to experience the sacred through a deeply focused awareness.
Finally, the eighth limb is samadhi – enlightenment! Being able to live in each moment without attachment. We may feel this state briefly when we feel a deep state of flow – an activity that connects us to ourselves or our community. Cultivating this ability to live in each moment allows us to be in a state of bliss!
For the next week pick one limb to focus on! Maybe cultivating kindness toward yourself or toward others? Perhaps taking time to explore all the physical practices not just Vinyasa or power practices but Yin and Restorative. Or maybe you want to spend some time learning how to become less reactive and increasing your concentration and focus by dedicating some time to a daily meditation practice.
And if you really want to take a DEEP DIVE into the benefits consider signing up for Yoga Teacher Training!
As always, below are some recommended practices for dealing with stress.