Yoga For Stress

“Stress” has become a fairly common term in our day to day society. We use it to describe our chaotic schedules, our busy day to day activities, and the general pace of our lives. Instead of the slow moving, more peaceful life that our parents and grandparents enjoyed we live in a fast paced world where the demands placed on us and on our time are often far greater than those who came before us. Because of this we can introduce a lot of stress into our life and that’s far from a good thing.

Stress is a result of a constant physical and mental demand placed upon us. Before modernized society the main struggles in life were staying safe and finding food and sometimes those activities presented challenges that put us in harms way. When we’re in danger the body produces a dizzying amount of chemicals and sends us through a multitude of physiological processes to get us to produce one of two reactions. These two reactions are the “fight or flight” options that we turn to when we sense danger. We either stick around and make an effort to defend ourselves (fight) or we run away to safety (flight). The problem is that today we don’t have as many life threatening dangers that are presented to us - instead we have a lot of every day stressors that build up over time but our body still produces the same reaction.

Even though our day to day lives don’t hold threats of death or dismemberment in them we still produce the same chemicals and processes to deal with them. The problem with that is it’s like a car revving it’s engine but never letting off the brakes - you get this backup of power and fuel that’s waiting to be released and never is. Usually after a big flight or fight scare the person in danger would take a big rest and relax - a way of sort of coming down from the adrenaline high that we get when we’re afraid but because what we’re dealing with on a day to day basis isn’t as in intense and is drawn out over a long period of time it sticks with us and all those chemicals and hormones get built up.

Being constantly put through these up and down levels of stress all day long runs us ragged and creates the setup for many diseases and long term conditions that stem from stress. The best way to combat this condition of chronic stress is to handle it with a few different methods. The first thing you want to do is change your situation the best you can. The second thing is to change your attitude. The third is to remember to take good care of yourself.

Changing your situation is an extremely important part of this combination because if you don’t change your situation then you’re allowing yourself to continually be in a place where your body creates those high levels of hormones and you’ll still be wearing yourself down. If you don’t change your situation there’s little point in changing anything else in your life because you’re still subjected to the same environmental factors day after day.

The first step in changing your situation is to identify what in your environment is stressing you out - this is also the most important step as it requires total and complete honesty. If you aren’t honest about what’s upsetting or bothering you then you won’t be able to change it or resolve it. So sit down, get a notebook, and write down all the things in each area of your life that are bothering you. Make sure that you list anything you cant think of and do this for each category of your life. So make a category for work, for home life, for friends, for family, for health, etc. Put down all the things that take energy out of your day even if they’re just little things. Does the lock on the car door being broken bother you? Does your spouse leaving his shoes in the hallway bother you? Do your kids not answering your phone calls worry you? Does the smoke detector being out of batteries worry you? Do you dislike your boss or where you live? These are the kinds of things you should write down.

Now it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you do this but don’t worry you don’t have to go out and fix every single one of those things right away. That’s why the next step is to circle the top two or three items in each category that are bothering you and take the time to list a few of the reasons why. Once you’re clear about what is upsetting you on a constant basis and why it’s time to list a few solutions to each problem and think of a  few measurable steps you can take to solve each one. If your work is really a huge stress in your life it may be time to cut back the hours at the office or find a different job altogether. If your car is bothering you then take the time to get it fixed so that it’s not longer a source of frustration. If your children or your spouse is troublesome to you then sit down with them and have a discussion about a possible behavioral change. As you do all of these things do them with the same presence you hold in your yoga practice because in the same way that we move from pose to pose in yoga you can move in and out of situations and events in your life. To do this you’ll have to be willing to take a few risks and step outside your comfort zone but the benefits from not have a stressful environment around you all the time can make all the difference.

The next step is to change your attitude. It’s not always easy or practical to change your environment and sometimes it can take a great deal of time so instead it’s sometimes required that you work on your attitude while the other stuff gets worked out on it’s own. The first step in changing your attitude is to stop seeing the frustrations in your life as annoyances and setbacks and instead learn to value them as challenges and learning opportunities. By doing this you will open yourself up to keeping your center and your calm as you’re faced with new things in your life and you’ll be able to retain a sense of balance as you move into new challenges. Changing your attitude is all about shifting your perspective and the way that you take problems on in your life. It’s about recognizing that everything in your life is a result of you and that it’s all there for you to benefit from. When you adopt this attitude and this positive way of looking at life you minimize the negative effects that any stressful situations can have on you simply because of your perspective on them. It’s also helpful to remember that what seems like a huge deal at any given time is more likely to be unimportant in the next year or five years.

The third step is to always take good care of yourself and this is where the continual practice of yoga and yogic principles is applied. By taking good care of your body you can ward off the effects of stress and stressful situations because your body will be more prepared to handle the pressures of your life. There are many ways you can do this and exercise is know to be a great solution to a stressful life but by practicing yoga which incorporates not only exercise but balance and mindfulness in life as well you get even more of the benefits. Taking time to practice your yoga each day replenishes your body’s natural strength and foundation of healing which keeps you healthier and stronger. It also strengthens your immune system and teaches you many of the tools that you can apply to have a stress-free life. Taking care of yourself also includes following a healthy diet, drinking lots of water, avoiding any drugs or addictive substances, and just generally being mindful of your body and how you treat it. It may also include regular periods of relaxation or meditation which may be in the form of a nice walk, a relaxing bath with a book, or a trip to the spa. Whatever it takes to give you a sense of relaxing and peacefulness for a while to balance out any stress that may have been incurred during your day or your week. It’s also important to make sure that you’re sleeping regularly and well enough. This may mean you have to scale back on how much coffee, sugary soda, or energy drinks you’re consuming as they can contribute to a lack of good sleep which can also lead to more stress.

You can also incorporate many of the yogic breathing practices to keep you calm and centered throughout the day. Remembering to breath whenever a stressful situation arises can be the difference between become upset or frustrated and staying calm and relaxed as you deal with whatever it is. Your yoga breathing can be a real tool in the face of emergency situations as well because it can help you not panic, keep your calm and focus on the situation in front of you. Yoga breathing can minimize many of the effects of stress and it can also help you in other aspects of your life too such as improving your sleep habits.

The important thing to remember here is that even if you don’t feel stressed or recognize any of the symptoms of it such as not eating well, not sleeping well, feeling chronically tired, and so on you can still be harboring the effects of being stressed and those can turn into big problems, health-wise, down the road. So by taking measures like changing your lifestyle a bit, shifting your attitude, and making sure that you’re taking especially good care of your body you can prevent the effects of stress from turning into a serious disease or illness and as you incorporate all of these different things remember to keep yoga as the backbone of your method here.

Yoga teaches being mindful of our bodies and how we live our lives and it also teaches being grateful for what we have. So if you can focus on being grateful for the good things in your life, seeing “problems” as new ways to learn, and all the while staying dedicated to your yoga practice, a healthy diet, and an even healthier lifestyle you’ll be able to easily cope with anything life brings your way without becoming stressed out.