WHY IS YOGA AN ANTIDOTE FOR STRESS & ANXIETY?
Stress and anxiety are increasingly common complaints in today’s fast-paced world. We tend to live in a constant state of alert due to stressful situations that can’t be resolved quickly e.g. financial worries, commute to work, job satisfaction, conflicts with coworkers, relationships etc. Anxiety is a cognitive state which is linked to an incapacity to control or regulate our emotional response to stress. The practice of yoga and meditation can help you to combat anxiety and lead a calmer, more relaxed, centred and stress-free life. How does it work?
Yoga helps us to turn on and tune into our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), often dubbed the “rest and digest” system. Many of yoga’s health benefits stem from the ability to turn up the dial on the parasympathetic system and to tone down the sympathetic nervous system, also termed as “fight or flight” system. When our PNS is stronger we have the ability to react with greater clarity and control to testing issues.
We are strengthening our PNS through focus and awareness of the breath and body in our yoga practice. Focus and awareness are antidotes to stress and anxiety and through conscious breathing and attention to the subtle changes of the body (as we move from pose to pose) we develop greater awareness of our internal make up. As we become more aware of where we hold tension, where we feel and don’t feel the breath, how our body changes day to day, what effects us physically and emotionally, the tone of our mind; we begin to understand ourselves a bit better. With greater attention we start to notice the signals of when the body and mind are getting stressed and anxious. We can then begin to catch ourselves before reacting in ways in which we might not want to; we can start to influence our reactions and take action. When we face problematic issues we can bring our yoga into the every day e.g. pausing to take conscious deep breaths, do 5 minutes meditation, hold a pose that helps you feel connected and centred for 10 minutes (perhaps a forward fold, or an inversion), write down thoughts to process feelings and to give your self time and space to think. These exercises can help the breath and body calm and find a sense of connection to self, so we can respond from a place of greater clarity and calm, which we gain from a stronger PNS.
It can be hard to get to this point of control, but through a regular yoga and meditation practice, we find the discipline and develop the tools to manage the negative mind and increased heart rate. When our PNS is stronger we are in a better position to deal with the stresses of everyday life.
‘SUNDAY NIGHT ANXIETY’
I know a lot of friends that suffer from slight anxiety on Sunday night. Often it can be hard to sleep on a Sunday evening after an active weekend and knowing you have an early morning with a busy schedule and pressures a waiting you. What has helped when I have the ‘Sunday night feeling’ is 30 minutes of yin, restorative yoga or meditation. Often I’ll do 2 yin poses for 5 minutes or more and then 10 - 12 minutes meditation. This helps get the body and mind into the PNS so you can let go and relax.