Yoga for Stress Relief - Can Yoga Eliminate Stress?
If we told you there was a scientifically proven, clear and surefire way to reduce and prevent your stress, would you believe us?
Even if we don’t want to admit it, we all have stressors. Some are expected, some unexpected, and no matter what we all end up a bit stressed at times (uh hello global pandemic?!). Stress is a universal phenomenon that every human experiences, just at different levels. Long periods of excess or increased levels of stress have been shown to result in various health disorders for many populations.
Stress isn’t tangible
Stress, as defined by Merriam-Webster’s 1999 dictionary, is “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.” It often sneaks up on us when we don’t want it to, and its sometimes hard to map out what exactly is causing our stress.
Yes, it’s good to eliminate the source and to shut it down from the point of causation in whatever way you can.
But what about when you can’t pinpoint it? What if the situation that is stressing out your mind and body, creating that tension, is out of your control?
Yoga could be your answer
We defined stress earlier to be a factor of physical, emotional or chemical form. We also determined the brain to be the biggest deciding factor in what the body responds to as stress. AND we know that long-term stress shows up as various physical imbalances (tension, health issues, etc.).
Yoga is seen as mind-body medicine. It creates a space for the mind and the body to work as one, be present as one, and to heal as one. Taking the time to intentionally and deliberately move your body through certain poses, balances, and feelings creates a mind-body connection that instantly brings your mind to the present.
Let us try to paint you a picture
- Have you ever been reading a book, but your mind is racing 100mph and you end up reading the same page over and over because you can’t collect your focus to the page?
- What about if you are cooking while watching TV, and you have to keep checking back to the recipe because you can’t remember the ingredients and the quantity?
- OR have you ever been so distracted in your mind that you don’t even remember your walk home from work? Or anything you saw along the way?
All of these examples are like trying to live with an overly stressed mind and body.
Fun fact: if you’re attempting a balancing pose in yoga, lets say half moon pose, and your mind isn’t present? You’ll fall over sideways. Like, immediately.
Yoga forces you, in the gentlest ways, to bring your mind to a place of calm focus. It allows you to let go of what isn’t important or urgent, and let in everything that is in front of you. Your body, your breath, your emotions, connected through each moment. And it is through this “letting in” that our mind and body are able to release the stress.
Well, I’m actually not really stressed right now.
Yoga not only can be seen as a stress reliever (amazing for after a long work day!) but also a stress prevention practice. This is huge! Not only can yoga relieve the stress that you already feel as you walk onto your mat, but it can PREVENT future stress. Stress that hasn’t happened yet, that you don’t even know is coming! Yoga is like your psychic aunt letting you know that you’re eventually going to need some help, and is setting you up for success.
So even if you’re not stressed today or tomorrow or whatever day you practice next, you know that you are preparing your mind and body for whatever stressors may come your way. And allowing yourself to navigate these habits of stress prevention is possibly the most important part of this article.
You can actively prepare your mind and body to stand strong when times get tough through yoga for stress relief. To differentiate between unnecessary stress and urgent matters that need to be dealt with. To adapt to life as it comes and let go of what doesn’t serve you. And your body will be feeling amazing for all of the work you’ve done to release the tension, aches and pains of the past – to move on from the stress that wasn’t properly managed before.
How to better connect your mind to your body: yoga for stress relief
Although yoga forces you to gather your mental focus, if you find your mind wandering in a yoga class, don’t beat yourself up. This is absolutely normal and even well-practiced yoga teachers can relate to this. Instead, notice the wandering, acknowledge it, and try to bring your mind back to your present, which is your mat. Look back to your AlmaAlign system on your Alma mat. Allow yourself to fully realign. Focus again on your breathing, how each breath feels. How with each breath you can fill up your belly and chest, and send that energy and life to whatever part of your body is in need of your full attention.
Inhale, exhale. Center your mind again and again, practicing the art of letting go, being here now.
Here’re some specific tips for returning your focus:
1. Set an intention
Setting an intention for being on your mat is a great way to stimulate mindfulness throughout your yoga for stress relief. Set a reason for showing up. Why are you on your mat today? It could be to show yourself love. To let go of what isn’t serving you. To find gratitude in chaos. To find clarity in a time of uncertainty. It can be specific to whatever you need. Maybe you choose an eco-friendly yoga mat for your practice to make a promise to protect your environment. And as you find your mind wandering away throughout your practice, as it does, each time try to bring it back to the intention you set at the beginning of the session.
Another way to promote that meditative state that will connect the mind and the body throughout your practice is through mantras. The word “mantra” comes from the ancient language of India – Sanskrit. The meaning translates to vehicle of the mind – with “man” meaning mind and “tra” meaning vehicle. Mantras allow the mind to stay focused and centered on what is at hand. You can create your own mantra or use various Sanskrit mantras that have been taught for hundreds of years. Basically, you want something that resonates with you, that your mind can sit on and your heart can explore throughout the practice.
Some common mantras used in yoga (and some of our favorites!):
- Sat nam (I am truth)
- So hum (I am that)
- I am enough
- Om (all encompassing)
- I am strong
- Aham-Prema (I am Divine love)
Connecting your breath to your movements is essential in yoga, and is great for keeping your mind engaged on your mat. You can try one breath per pose where you inhale to one position, and exhale to the next for your whole flow. You can practice connecting your breath to your body in a static hold where you breathe into the targeted body part and exhale to go deeper. Connecting to your breath in whatever ways feel natural and beneficial to you is important, especially if you are practicing on your own. Find what feels good that practice and stick to it, allowing your mind to focus on your breath, and allowing your body to implement those breaths to open up every corner of your physical body.
Okay I am stressed. But what’s the big deal?
Stress can be problematic for many populations as it has the potential for harming the body and mind, inhibiting daily functions, and in some cases becoming debilitating.
Over the last two decades, medical professionals have begun to further emphasize the importance of stress-management techniques due to the possible benefits to the overall health of an individual, noting the severe consequences to prolonged stress.
Common factors affecting stress in the United States general population, as per national survey, include age, sex, education, income, race, and employment (there are so many variables – no one is safe!). Certain populations may be more vulnerable, but say, at a time of a crisis, everyone will be affected to some extent.
We also know that stress can contribute to various health issues such as cardiovascular disease, suppressed immune function, increased blood pressure, and many more.
The study of stress and its causes and effects has led to the creation of various medications to aid in stress relief. However, many of these medications have a lot of negative side effects. So it would be amazing if more people could implement these natural, beneficial and proven stress relief methods to keep their worries at bay.
Moral of the story: we need to hit our stress head on and find a way to tackle it for the sake of our overall wellbeing.
Moving Forward, letting go
It would be great if we could simply say that we just don’t get stressed. But with everything going on around you – whether it be your inner circle, outer circle, or globally – there is a guarantee that something will stress us out at some point.
When it does – you know where to go.
Find your Alma eco friendly yoga mat and lay it down wherever you are. Even a quick yoga flow will significantly help to reduce your stress levels. Set your intention, find your breath, and let go.