HOW YOGA WORKS
ON LOWERING STRESS
ON LOWERING STRESS
“To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders”, said Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher, and the author of the reputed Tao Te Ching.
As the body melts experiencing relaxation at the end of a yoga class, a variety of sensations take over the body from head to toes. It feels like there is no option but to surrender to stillness. Allowing our bodies to rest and surrender while ending a yoga practice is such a reward. A sudden wave of lightness and joy is certainly a response felt by many yoga practitioners. Whether you have been unrolling your yoga mat for a while or is new to the practice, it is beyond doubt that yoga is beneficial to the body and mind.
Yoga is a powerful, complete practice that will bring the body and mind to balance. It affects the nervous system in positive ways due to its deep breathing exercises, dissolving muscular tension, and influencing positive stress response. Creating a lifestyle focused on more quality time so health and self-care becomes a priority; however, this seems like a distant reality to many individuals in modern society.
In our developed Western society, we have achieved so much yet very little in terms of holistic care regarding the body-mind connection. The tendency is to focus outward with too busy work schedules. Little or no time left for family, social life, and most importantly, oneself, thus leading to a cycle of chronic stress. A certain amount of the stress hormone cortisol is indeed needed to get us moving and be productive. The issue is when it turns to chronic stress, therefore affecting negatively bodily systems. The nervous system is a complex and delicate system with several divisions. When the body is stressed, signals are experienced across other body systems such as the Cardiovascular and Respiratory ones.
Think of accelerated heartbeat, increased respiration rate and sweaty palms. Those are all responses from our sympathetic nervous system, also known as fight or flight response. The body energetically concentrates its energy on fighting a threat to life or fleeing from a possible enemy. The sympathetic nervous system sends signals to the Adrenal Gland so that Adrenalin and Cortisol are released. Living in chronic stress over a long period drains the body leading to long term fatigue. Studies have shown how stress increases inflammation in the body affecting the gastrointestinal system. Anorexia is one of many conditions associated with a state of permanent stress.
Other conditions that can be associated with chronic stress are:
Blood sugar imbalances
High blood pressure
Lower immune system response
Low energy levels
It is imperative to listen to what the body has to say and understand the body-mind connection. Learning how to relax is not a privilege, it is a conscious choice that leads to balance. The question is how to find and incorporate a routine that balances the body and mind.
Yoga for the Body and Mind
The mind and body are not apart; they are one entity. Through the physical practice of yoga (“asanas”), we can find harmony between the two. A regular asana practice assists in releasing body tension and calming the mind. Dealing with tension stored on a physical level is an efficient way to restore mental clarity and relaxation.
Some of the benefits of a daily yoga practice are:
Reduction of stress and anxiety
Improvement of Circulation
Improvement of muscle strength and flexibility
A boost in immunity
Reduction of blood pressure
Reduction of Cortisol levels
During the asana practice, deep breathing is required and a variety of breathing techniques are used to bring more oxygen to the brain and activate the energy channels in the subtle body. Fortunately, in recent years Western medicine is going deeper in studying how yoga can be a game-changer for better health. Medical doctors are raising awareness of taking care of the body and mind using a more holistic approach.
Breathing techniques used in many styles of yoga help regulate a wide array of health conditions. Besides that, those techniques have demonstrated to be beneficial to overall health. Deep breathing works like an anchor, bringing the individual to the present moment. The action of consciously controlling and paying attention to the quality of the breath engages different parts of the brain. Through breath, we can learn how to regulate our busy minds. Furthermore, controlling the pace of the breath increases concentration, making it easier to achieve a meditative state.
Surrendering to the Inner World-Meditation
Meditation is another tool that should be incorporated into a daily routine to lower stress. Just as we aim to have a fit and supple body, it is essential to have a healthy mind. The yoga asana practice serves to prepare the body to sit still in meditation. The focus shifts inward in observation of thoughts, emotions and mental patterns. The medical community has been researching meditation and its benefits are undeniable. Depression is one of the major issues in our modern society leading to total isolation. By developing a regular meditation practice, you will cultivate the time and space to go to the core of your being, gain mental clarity and wisdom. You can start a meditation routine by devoting fifteen to twenty minutes every morning. Sitting still simply observing the breath and calming the mind can set the tone for the day that lies ahead.
These are some meditation techniques to choose from:
This type of meditation based in Buddhism aims to cultivate compassion, kindness, and forgiveness towards yourself and others. A study on the loving-kindness meditation approach has proven to be effective for treating social anxiety, marital conflict, and anger. During Metta Meditation the following sentences can be repeated directing love to yourself and other people: “May you live with ease, may you be happy, may you be free from pain.”
Mindfulness is a way of living in which we train our brains to bring awareness to the present. Being present and engaged within every single moment and task that we do. Instead of getting absorbed in thoughts and feelings, we learn to observe them without judgment. Being mindful doesn’t eliminate stress automatically. Nevertheless, it teaches a valuable lesson -by observation of our emotions, we can choose to handle them better in a calmer, grounded state of mind.
Kundalini Yoga Meditation
In Kundalini Yoga tradition the whole body is prepared to be supple and stronger. Yoga asanas (postures) are combined with pranayama-breathing exercises that revitalise the energy body and the chanting of mantras. It is a deep practice that works the physical and energy body bringing improvements to health and a sense of mental clarity. It is time to reclaim our natural state of balance and inner peace. A regular practice can be helpful in better managing stress and react more positively towards the demands of life.
Stepping into the ocean of the mind can be overwhelming. It is a long journey of coming back to yourself. It requires commitment and dedication, but the rewards are endless. Stress is neither the norm nor our natural state. Yoga and meditation are sanctuaries available within each one of us. Become present to listen to the call and surrender to it.
 Saraswati, Swami. Asana Pranayama Mudra Bhanda. India, Yoga Publications Trust, 2013
 Dale, Cyndi. The subtle body practice manual-a comprehensive guide to energy healing. Llewellyn Publications, 2017