You probably already know that Yoga helps people to feel relaxed and calm. Your Yoga loving friends talk about how their Yoga classes and practice is vital for giving them peace and helping them to relax.
There are so many ways that Yoga can help you to relieve stress in your body and mind. It is a powerful natural stress reliever, and can leave you feeling peaceful, connected, relaxed and clear headed, the exact opposite of the effects of stress.
Here are 10 ways that Yoga can help to relieve stress and promote wellbeing and happiness.
Release physical tension
The Yoga postures first create tension in the body, then, if you allow the body to rest between postures, that tension, along with any other tension being held in the body, disappears. The style of Yoga that I was trained in, as taught by Swami Gitanada, encourages a short rest between each posture to allow the release of tension, and to train the body and mind to recognise the difference between tension and non-tension in the body. The leads to greater awareness of when the body is in tension, so that you can do something to relieve that tension
A good relaxation after a Yoga practice is vital to allow the body and mind to release any tension that has been built up through the class, and to enable the full benefits of the practice to infuse through body and mind. Yoga promotes deep relaxation by using the mind and breath to relax the body, and when this happens, the mind is able to also relax.
Reduces stress hormones
Cortisol is the “stress hormone” that is created during the stress response. It has many other functions in the body, and we do need it to occur in the right amount. However, too much cortisol, created by too much stress, has adverse effects on the body, including weight gain, anxiety and depression. Yoga has been shown to reduce Cortisol levels in the body, particularly the ‘Relaxation response’ produced during deep breathing practices.
Produces feel good brain chemicals
GABA is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel relaxed and content. Alcohol mimics this chemical, which is why alcohol is perceived as a stress relieving, happy making drug. This is a lie, alcohol actually raises the cortisol level while pretending to be GABA. Yoga on the other hand actually does increase the level of GABA in the body, producing that happy content feeling for real, while also lowering cortisol, as mentioned above.
Much is written and known about the benefits of mindfulness practice. While there is great truth in that, it saddens me to see how much yoga and mindfulness are seen as separate things. In a yoga practice that only looks at the postures, this is the case, but Yoga is more than just the postures, it is a whole system for living well in the world that promotes mindful living. Adopting the Yamas and Niyamas, developing awareness of the body, mind and emotions, and becoming more connected to yourself and your spiritual aspect, as Yoga invites you to do, IS mindful living
Encourages self compassion
We often find it quite difficult to be kind to ourselves. This is often a cause and a by product of stress, we fail to prioritise our own self care, become stressed, then beat ourselves up for the effects of the stress. Self care is vital for wellbeing, and self compassion is a very important part of this. Ahimsa, the Yama of non harming, tells us that we should always endeavour to do no harm, this applies to ourselves as well as others. Three powerful guidelines I was given at the start of my training were ‘Don’t Judge, Don’t Compare, Don’t Beat Yourself Up‘. These ideas were invaluable to me as I moved through my recovery and continue to guide me to this day.
Improves social behaviour
Relationships and how we show up in the world can create a great deal of stress and worry. The Yamas can be of huge help with this, guiding you to look at your behaviour, how you impact on others, how you allow others to impact on you. The Yamas are concerned with how we relate to others, promoting non harming, truthfulness (how much stress does telling, and trying to remember, a lie cause?), not stealing, controlling material desires, and not grasping and holding on to things that aren’t ours or no longer serve us. These principles are also applied to how we treat ourselves, encouraging the self compassion I mentioned above.
Promotes personal growth
As the Yamas are concerned with our relationship with the material world around us, the Niyamas are about personal growth, and encourage cleanliness, contentment, discipline, self reflection and letting go of control. Striving to be better than you are today, while accepting where you are today with gratitude and compassion, is a powerful way to keep stress to a minimum,as we learn to see the lessons in life’s experiences instead of trying to fight them
Yoga promotes better sleep in a variety of ways. When your body is relaxed and free of tension, then sleep comes easier, and you get better quality of sleep. Through practising the mindfulness of Yoga, you can become proficient at letting go of thoughts and worries that can prevent you getting to sleep. Relaxation practices such as the 22 point relaxation in the video below can help you to relax deeply before bed, enabling you to fall asleep easily, and sleep well when you are asleep. Stress and sleep are intrinsically linked – we are better able to deal with stress if we have had a good night’s sleep, and sleep is an excellent tonic for stress, BUT stress interferes with sleep, preventing us from falling and staying asleep, and getting good quality sleep. Take care of stress, and sleep improves, which in turn reduces stress.
Increases connection to Self
Part of the reason we feel so stressed is because we have become so disconnected from ourselves and the world. We might live in an ever connected, social media obsessed society, but how many of your Facebook friends do you actually know and engage with? How much of that engagement is in any way meaningful beyond a like of their posts? The 24/7 whirl of distraction we live in means that we struggle to be alone, to be still and silent, and to listen to our intuition. Yoga’s ultimate goal is Self-Realisation, or Enlightenment, but along the way to that very high spiritual goal, we can learn a great deal about ourselves and become more authentic in how we show up to the world and to ourselves. Again the Yamas and Niyamas encourage this, promoting truthful living, reflection and disciplined living among other positive traits. These, together with the development of awareness of the body, mind and emotions, leads to deep connection to oneself that can only lead to greater contentment and inner peace.
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