While we’re no longer on the run from hungry tigers, we do have to contend with traffic, unrealistic deadlines and screaming babies. Stress is unavoidable and, in some cases, essential for our survival. But too much of anything isn’t healthy. These days, we’re more stressed than ever and the intensity and pace of modern life it’s taking a toll on our bodies and minds.
Learn more about the benefits of yoga for stress and anxiety
Stress affects everyone differently
Some of the wide-ranging effects of stress include:
- headaches and migraines
- muscular aches and pains (especially in the neck, shoulders and back)
- raised blood pressure and increased risk of heart attack
- increased risk of diabetes
- weight gain
- changed appetite
- digestive problems
- hair loss
- acne, eczema and other skin conditions
- irregular or painful periods (for women) or reduced sperm count (for men)
- decreased libido
- lowered immunity to illness
- trouble sleeping
- difficulty concentrating
- lack of motivation
- increased irritability and anger
I’m all too familiar with the side-effects of stress and I’m guessing you are too. Seventy-five per cent of Australians surveyed by ABS said stress adversely affected their physical health and 64% said it affected their mental health.
An antidote to modern life, yoga can help combat stress and anxiety
If you feel over-scheduled, have trouble switching off or can’t remember the last time you did something just for yourself, yoga can reduce your experience of stress and anxiety.
Moving mindfully with the breath, yoga teaches us to pause, release and unwind. The body moves out of ‘fight or flight’ mode into a more balanced state: the muscles relax, blood pressure decreases and the body’s vital organs and systems return to optimum function.
Breathing, meditation and mindfulness techniques enhance the physical effects, and promote mental calm, clarity and focus. With practise, yoga can actually change the way you perceive and respond to stress; you will be triggered less often by the small things, and your nervous system will return to balance more quickly after challenging physical, mental or emotional situations.
When choosing a class, keep in mind that certain styles of yoga are more relaxing than others. Power Yoga, for example, is a dynamic practice found in many gyms and health clubs. Designed to build strength and stamina, expect to sweat (a lot) as your heart rate increases. If your stress levels are already high, an intense style of yoga (eg. Power Yoga, Bikram, Hot Yoga) may not be ideal. Opt for a slower-paced class which promotes balance. Styles such as Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga, Hatha Yoga and Slow Flow stimulate the Parasympathetic Nervous System, helping body and mind to relax, restore and heal.
Incorporate mindful moments
Mindfulness (which is basically the opposite of auto-pilot mode) is one of the most powerful tools you can use to manage day-to-day stress.
Short bursts of mindfulness act like a circuit breaker to the experience of stress or anxiety, stimulating the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
Take a moment to stop and observe the thoughts, feelings and sensations that are present right now. Use all of your senses to experience the present moment, resisting the urge to label your observations as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Repeat this process throughout your day, pausing to savour and truly experience small, everyday tasks such as:
- the moment your feet touch the floor in the morning
- brushing your teeth
- biting into your sandwich at lunch
- the first sip of a glass of wine
- lathering and washing your hands in the sink.
Over time, you may notice that mindfulness becomes easier, more natural. And that, as you become more aware of your habitual patterns, you can consciously introduce new patterns that are less stressful and harmful to your body and mind
When you’re under the pump, even a 5-minute break can seem impossible. However, a short period of rest and relaxation can actually increase your productivity. Do less. Achieve more.
Clear out the mental clutter and tap into inner peace with this short mindfulness meditation.