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Mental health charity Mind defines stress as ‘Situations or events that put pressure on us – for example, times where we have lots to do and think about, or don't have much control over what happens’ and ‘our reaction to being placed under pressure – the feelings we get when we have demands placed on us that we find difficult to cope with.’
All of us will have experienced stress at some point in our lives, or have to deal with stress on a regular basis. It’s practically unheard of never to experience stress.
Yogis are often associated with a stress-free life and seen as the epitome of calm. In fact, just doing yoga is often thought of as a sure fire way to avoid stress. The idea that yoga is an instant stress-buster isn’t strictly true - although it’s not too far off.
Unifying the body and mind is a process, and with all the will in the world we can still experience racing thoughts and the symptoms associated with stress even as we’re practicing yoga or have just come out of a yoga class. This is because stress is often out of our control and external to us, so simply doing something else and distracting ourselves won’t help the stress to dissipate.
Applying yoga as a stress preventing and relieving technique is, however, an excellent contributor to alleviating stress or managing stress in times of turbulence. Combined with a few other key actions and approaches to our overall wellbeing, it can have a positive effect on the whole. Here at M Life, we are no strangers to stress, but have a box of yoga-based tips and tricks we can use with the aim of living a low stress life.
Take ownership of the stress and identify the route cause
To tackle stress we need to accept that we can be or are stressed, and own it - even if it’s not something we’re creating or doing. It then help to try to find the causes and make changes that can help the stress go away. This can include looking at what triggers it and what’s in our power to stop, start or change.
Mix up meditative, slower yoga with pacey and more difficult yoga
Coming to terms with our feelings, anxieties, stresses and strains is healthy, and one route to this is using forms of yoga which are slower and designed to bring our physical body and mental health into alignment. Yin yoga is a good example, and there are many classes out there which have a meditative component.
Sometimes, it’s also just as important to clear the mind, and one way of doing this is to practice a form of yoga which requires total concentration and mental focus. A power flow or intensive vinyasa class can be very refreshing and help us proritise ourselves over external stresses. We have to fully commit to the moves and poses, which contributes to our sense of perspective and mental clarity.
Don’t skip exercise - or the savasana
Skipping exercise or a yoga practice can mean we miss out on vital health benefits which can combat or alleviate stress. Exercise and physical movement can mean we sleep better, have a better hormone balance and are more resilient physically.
At the end of the yoga class we’ll often move into a savasana, a few minutes of relaxation known as the ‘resting’ pose. This final ‘move’ is intended to still the mind, send gratitude towards our body and others (scientifically proven to be good for mental health) and reset our place in the world. Quite often, if we’re busy or stressed, we can be tempted to skip the savasana. Don’t!
Don’t forget to breathe - and try aromatherapy oils
Sending oxygen around our body by breathing is absolutely vital and performing breathwork can help us to nourish our body with what it needs. Breathwork is also the essence of yoga and allows us to determine where to send and channel our energy. Being true to ourselves, our life sources and finding our very centre can mean we achieve an understanding of our being and stress that we may not achieve through just by practicing yoga.
Marrying the rhythm of our poses and physicality to our breathing also helps to avoid injury and means we can flow properly through our movement sequences, as well as identifying imbalances. One way to keep a focus on our breath in a yoga practice (or just when meditating) is to add essential or aromatherapy oils to a burner or roll them onto our skin, so we also get a lovely scent and hit of ambience as we breathe in and out.
Combine yoga with a therapy
Therapy is an investment in our mental health, the same way going to the gym or doing yoga is an investment is our physical health. Sometimes we need expert help and outsource our stress management to someone else. Even if we’re feeling tip top, combining the physical healing associated with yoga and the mental strength and conditioning of therapy can keep us on an even keel and steady state, and ensure we’re ready for any stress-related shocks.
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