By Beth Shaw, founder and president of YogaFit®
Fretting over paying the bills, keeping your job, nailing those last-minute deadlines, maybe even keeping your kids out of trouble? It's impossible to be impervious to the trials and tribulations of everyday strife. Here's how yoga helps.
Managing personal daily stresses is easier if you can identify the symptoms (rapid heart rate, flushed face, breathlessness), witness them without reacting, and then release the stress or the prime source of stress. Stress management is the daily process of letting go of tension stored in the body and mind. Without this letting go process, we become candidates for ulcers, heart attacks, migraines and premature aging. All caused, in part, by stress.
In this busy information society, we are constantly bombarded by external stimuli. A well-rounded stress management program can help tune out the exterior world, and allow the participant to drop inside their bodies, and find a place of stillness with the relaxing sound of your breath. We learn to increase the probability of desired moods and feelings through newfound and heightened self-awareness, while simultaneously decreasing more negative states of anxiety.
Stress management techniques performed in a yoga class or by using an exercise DVD, such as deep breathing and holding postures longer and rhythmically (even listening to calming music) allows you to discover and explore how you individually hold emotions, thoughts and experiences in your body. These techniques (even walking your dog or meditating before getting out of bed in the morning) also allow you to tune into different moods, feelings, attitudes, and states of consciousness beside the low-grade stress levels that most people operate under. Excessive levels of toxin-producing stress can also result in an extended period of hormonal “Flight or Fight Syndrome” which can, over time, tax the adrenal glands and cause sleeplessness, fatigue and even weight gain.
Combating stress is a daily endeavor and you can use yoga postures sprinkled liberally throughout your day to do this. Remember: It's the little things we do that cumulatively add up to excellent mind-and-body health. Here at YogaFit, we consider yoga practice to form yet another type of technology for getting back in touch with our true essence. Consistent practice--even in 5-minute bursts throughout the day--can bring you back to remembering the health and wholeness that is your natural state of being. Yoga, when broken down to its most simple form, is breathing and feeling. Through this breathing and feeling we learn to control our more negative reactions to events and people. It is neither the events nor the people in your life that provide the most substantial stressors but the way in which you react to them.
Stress is a Way of Life… Time to Take Action
Stress is so commonplace that it has become a way of life. Stress isn’t always bad, of course. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. In fact, a stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price. If you often find yourself feeling overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. Starting today, you can protect yourself by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects:
° Financial problems
° During major life changes
° Tense work situation
° Relationship difficulties
° Children and family issues
° Too busy and overscheduled lifestyle
° Unrealistic expectations at work and at home
° Perfectionism or even chronic pessimism
YOGA FOR PHYSICAL STRESS: Yoga massages the skeletal system, which supports bone mass and growth while taking the stress away from the supporting muscles and tendons. Yoga mechanically removes tension from the muscles through stretching. Steady even yoga breathing reduces stress levels in the body, which is most often accompanied by rapid, shallow breathing Yoga encourages deep diaphragmatic breathing, activating a relaxation response. Yoga also massages the internal organs reducing high blood pressure, stress in the cardiovascular system at the level of the heart, arteries and blood. The nerve pathways are massaged and stretched through yoga practice, conducting messages throughout the body.
Of course, yoga also strengthens all major muscle groups and greatly enhances flexibility and injury prevention as well.
YOGA FOR EMOTIONAL ANXIETY: Emotionally, the body believes what the mind believes. Affirmations about peace, calm, and tranquility, along with positive imagery, are conveyed to the nervous system. Yoga brings greater patience to relationships with other people, work life, home life and all relationships.
As you begin to explore these relationships more, you'll see which interactions genuinely support you in moving towards calmness. As you become more relaxed through yoga, you'll release addictive behaviors, which are often mistakenly used to relieve stress. Yoga brings awareness to the emotional blocks that limit your experience of life. Your perception of life has been conditioned by our experiences and sometimes we close ourselves off from feelings and emotions. Through yoga we all learn to bring awareness to all parts of ourselves with the understanding that through integration, we come to a natural place of balance. Many of our stressful habit patterns are conditioned. Yoga teaches a whole set of patterns which are helpful in reducing stress every single day.
Daily Yoga For Stress… Poses that Zap Tension Away
Either do several different poses several times within a day, or you may link them together for a longer session:
1. Chest expansion (anti-aging, mood-elevating and expanding, great for postural muscles and flexibility)
From a standing position bring arms behind back and interlace fingers. Draw arms away from the body at the same time draw shoulders down and back. Open the heart center and breath deeply into lungs. Activate the back muscles and close your eyes. Hold for ten deep breaths and make sure and exhale fully. Repeat several times throughout the day.
2. Seated spinal twist (aids digestion, improves internal organ function, stretches the mid-back and waistline)
From a seated position with legs extended, draw right knee into towards body and wrap left arm around bent leg, looking over right shoulder. Hold for five deep slow breaths, and then repeat on other side sitting up very straight and tall. Use your arm in back as leverage on the floor to twist deeper on each exhale. After 5 to 10 breaths, switch sides and repeat.
3. Knees to chest (soothes anxiety and stomach upset almost instantly)
Lie back on your mat and gently draw both knees into your chest, pressing hands underneath the knees lightly to deepen your stretch. Rock slowly from one side of the outer back to the other, massaging the organs and spine for 10 long, deep breaths.
4. Lying down spinal twist (relieves mid-to-lower back and neck discomfort)
From knees to chest position above, keep right knee into chest, and slowly extend left leg straight, toes pointed. Draw right knee over straight leg towards floor and then gently look over right shoulder. Breathe into your lower low back. Don’t force or push any deeper until your smooth indicates you to do so. Hold for 5 to 10 deep breaths and then switch sides. This comprehensive stretch is ideal to do after running, walking or any cardio session to allow muscles and heart rate to recover.
5. Inversions such as Shoulderstand or supported Headstand (anti-aging poses, great for jet lag, hangovers and tension headaches, helps center and balance your thoughts)
From knees to chest position above, support your low back with both hands, then engage the belly to draw legs over head and then slowly towards the sky one by one. Keep your abs, back and hips engaged as you fully extend legs to sky keeping feet flexed and leg muscles firm. Keep your neck and upper back stationary at all times, do not look around at all. Hold for 10 breaths and close your eyes if you can. Release slowly by bringing legs overhead and rolling out one vertebra at a time. Return to knees to chest position to stabilize the back muscles, regulate your breath and realign the spine.
Beth Shaw, E-RYT, BS, CMT, is the president and founder of YogaFit Training Systems Inc. The leader in mind-body education, YogaFit has trained more than 100,000 fitness instructors on six continents. Shaw is an internationally known fitness expert and the author of Beth Shaw’s YogaFit (Human Kinetics, 2009, $17.95) and the publisher of Angles magazine, which is distributed to yoga fitness enthusiasts and instructors. Shaw and her company have been showcased in numerous fitness magazines as well as Oprah’s O magazine, Time, More, Entrepreneur, Yoga Journal, Glamour, Self and USA Today. She has also been featured on CNBC, CNN, NBC, CBS, E Style, Channel, Showtime, and Donny Deutsch’s Big Idea.
Ms. Shaw is the innovative educator, entrepreneur, and visionary responsible for YogaFit as well as YogaButt, YogaStrength, YogaCore, YogaLean, and countless other yoga fitness combinations. She has more than 30 DVDs and CDs on the market and is widely recognized as the premier yoga fitness trainer in the industry.
She is also known for her community service initiatives. As an animal rights activist, Shaw serves on the National Council for the Humane Society and is involved in Animal Alliance, Downtown Dog Rescue and sits on the board of Social Compassion in Legislature. Her nonprofit organization, Visionary Women in Fitness, awards scholarships and grants women in need. She lives in Beverly Hills, California.