Yoga for Stress Relief

‘Yoga can teach you to love yourself from the inside out; that reminds you each time you step onto the yoga mat that you are already perfect exactly the way you are. We want you to take the lessons you learn on the mat and use them in other aspects of your life. Think of your yoga practice as a mirror to your soul, as a barometer by which to gauge your feelings and as a prescription for healthy action. We can’t promise that yoga will fix all your physical, mental and spiritual ills, but if you make a commitment to regular practice, we can promise that yoga will change your life.’[1]

Yoga can help us deal with stress on so many levels.  We can also harness the calming and energizing effects of yoga asana to balance us emotionally. Yoga can be a refuge in times of stress, a joyful celebration of life, help us focus and to let go, and a means of living mindfully through the full spectrum of our emotions. 

The restorative relaxing asana can calm and soothe body and mind at the end of a hectic day. The challenging dynamic asana can train us to remain steady, calm and present in the midst of busyness. The repositioning of our bodies, can literally shift our perspective and allow to see new solutions. The framework of Ayurveda and yoga physiology can provide the link between our emotional, physical and spiritual selves- and ultimately the connection between ourselves the rest of our universe.

Our yoga practice allows us to connect to an aspect of ourselves beyond the flow of thoughts and emotions through the mind, providing us with the clarity, strength and sustenance. The more subtle practices of pranayama and mediation allow us to deepen this understanding of our bodies and minds.

Practicing asana helps us to rebalance our postural habits. We can stretch out tight muscles and build strength where we need too, which allows us to use our energy more efficiently, often releasing physical tension held in the body brings a deep sense of mental relaxation. Many of the sequences we will practice focus on stretching out tight legs, hips, shoulders and building core strength, easing pressure on the spine. The core strengthening and standing postures empower us, providing us with a stable physical base to help us stand our ground!

The twisting, lateral stretching, forward and back bending postures that help the muscle of the body also help the organs beneath and the glands of the endocrine system function effectively, reducing stress on the body.

Yoga asanas work on the ‘squeeze and soak’ principal, where an area of the body is compressed then expanded, encouraging a fresh flow of circulation. According to Krishna Raman ‘yoga’s squeeze-and-soak action pushes out cellular toxins more efficently than other forms of exercise. He writes that the massage action in general brings freshly oxygenated blood to your skin, which promotes “healthy output of antibacterial secretions” enhances blood flow to your respiratory tract, and pushes blood into your bone marrow, increasing your body’s ability to produce immune cells.’[2]

 According to BKS Iyengar ‘through the process of squeezing out the old, stale blood or lymphatic fluids, and soaking the area with freshly oxygenated blood or fluids, yoga helps the body use the nutrients it needs.’[3]  Shoulderstand is a great example of this process, the thyroid and parathyroid glands (responsible for regulating metabolism) are squeezed whilst we are in the pose, then bathed in a fresh flow of circulation upon release, the rejuvenating effect this has can balance the glands function. Patricia Walden teaches ‘forward bends to quiet the adrenal glands, mitigating the fight-or-flight response, and backbends to energize them’[4]. Many yoga asana (like inversions) also direct the flow of circulation through the body simply by using gravity. When you are upside down, in a headstand or even just with your legs up the wall, extra circulation is directed to the Pineal and Pituitary gland in the head, and these master glands regulate the function of the entire endocrine system. The brain receives a boost of freshly oxygenated blood, helping us think clearly. As we are upside down, the digestive system gets a good shake up, lymphatic drainage is enhanced and we get to see the world from a different perspective which can have a powerful transformative effect on our state of mind.   

Our goal in yoga is not to judge or chastise ourselves when we uncover imbalances, but rather to work body, mind and breath in harmony to heal them.  With this in mind, if any of the asana feels uncomfortable or painful, release the pose and let me know. A retreat is an ideal time to refine your alignment or find another pose that gives you the same benefits in a way that suits your body better. If you are feeling low in energy, we can adapt to a gentle or restorative practice. Sometimes it is appropriate to let go of the physical challenge or your yoga practice and rather than focusing on getting deeper into the pose, focus on the benefits you receive. Do yoga to feel better not to get better at it and practice ‘as though you were treating yourself to an hour or so of pure indulgence.’[5]


[1] L. Sparrow & P. Walden, The Women’s book of yoga and health, xii.

[2]L. Sparrow & P. Walden, The Women’s book of yoga and Health, p 123.

[3] L. Sparrow & P. Walden, The Women’s book of yoga and Health, p 330.

[4] L. Sparrow & P. Walden, The Women’s book of yoga and Health,p 330.

 

[5] L. Sparrow & P. Walden, The Women’s book of yoga and Health, p 95.