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Yoga for Stress Relief – 3 Ways Yoga Can Relieve Stress

Updated: Feb 21


Stress can have a good and bad effect on us. It can be a force for good when it helps us to stay alert, motivated and safe. But it can be bad when it’s ongoing and continues without relief.


The harmful signs/effects of stress can include: fatigue, tiredness, lowered immunity, difficulty remembering, acne, headaches, insomnia, chest pain, high blood pressure, lower back pain, stomach or digestive problems, depression, burn-out, anxiety, irritability and social or communication issues.


3 Ways Yoga Can Relieve Stress


Finding an effective and healthy way to relieve and manage stress can improve the quality of your life and your physical and mental wellbeing. Read on to find out how yoga can empower you with 3 ways to relieve and manage stress.


1. You build a bond with your breath



A key aspect of yoga is the breath and yoga encourages us to build a bond with our breath. In a yoga practice, we deepen and regulate/slow down our breath to calm our mind and body (which relieves stress). On and off the mat, deepening and regulating your breath is a simple yet effective tool to relieve stress as it slows down your nervous system (‘calms your nerves’). 


Importantly, yoga also teaches us to strengthen our bond with our breath to help us manage stress off the mat. It does this by encouraging us to maintain a deep and steady breath in intense/challenging poses, which is great training/practice for managing our response in stressful/challenging situations off the mat. For example, while holding or moving through challenging poses, a teacher will remind us to breathe deeply and slowly as our attention can easily be absorbed by more demanding distractions e.g. what we’re doing with our legs, arms etc.


"Calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence, so that's very important for good health." - Dalai Lama

Off the mat in daily life (where there are many distractions and things demanding our attention), we can similarly forget the breath as a tool to stay calm, especially when we need it the most. Remembering to deepen and regulate your breath will help you to manage and reduce your stress response in stressful/challenging situations (protecting you against the effects of stress).


3 Calming Breath Exercises for On/Off Mat:


1. Deep and Regulated Breathing


As mentioned earlier, deepening and regulating your breath will help you to stay calm in stressful/challenging situations. Finding a deep and slow breath is also great to do at any time of the day to promote calm and presence.


What to do:

  • Take a slow deep breath in through your nostrils and a long breath out through your nostrils.

  • Become aware of the cool air slowing moving in through your nostrils and slightly warmer air slowly moving out through your nostrils.

  • Welcome a steady breath. Maintain a deep and slow rhythm.

 

2. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana Pranayama)


Alternate Nostril Breathing (ANB) balances our nervous system and is particularly good to do before a stressful/challenging situation. In my experience, just 2-3 minutes of ANB before a stressful situation (i.e. interview, presentation, meeting, social event or another situation) is enough time to calm our mind and body.


What to do:

  • Bring your left thumb to your left nostril and press it closed. Inhale deeply in through your right nostril to a count of 4/5.

  • Pause briefly to release your left thumb and bring your left ring finger to close your right nostril and exhale slowly through your left nostril to a count of 4/5.

  • Inhale deeply in through your left nostril to a count of 4/5, then release your left ring finger (and close your left nostril again with your left thumb) and exhale slowly through your right nostril to a count of 4/5.

  • That completes one cycle. Repeat 2 or more times.

 

3. 3-Part Breath (Dirga Pranayama)


3-Part Breath is a breathing exercise to relax your mind and body. You can sit or lie down (eyes closed or open) with one hand on your heart and one hand on your lower belly.


What to do:

  • Take a slow deep inhale through your nostrils to a count of 4/5 and exhale to a count of 4/5.

  • Repeat once or twice.

  • Keep breathing at this pace but let go of the counting.

  • As inhale, first fill your belly, then your ribcage and finally your chest.

  • Pause and slowly exhale to first release your chest, your ribcage and your belly.

  • Allow your breath to slowly travel up belly-to-ribcage-to-chest and slowly empty chest-to-ribcage-to-belly.  

  • Inhale to slowly inflate, exhale to slowly deflate.

  • Feel the flow of breath as it moves through these 3 areas of your body.

  • Repeat for up to a minute or longer.

 

2. You build a bond with your body

 


Another key aspect of yoga is the body and yoga encourages us to build a bond with our body. In yoga, the poses direct our attention to different areas of our body which builds body awareness and connection to our body. Body awareness is an effective tool to help you notice physical tension/effects of stress on your body, influencing how you relieve and manage stress in your life.


On the mat, yoga builds awareness by drawing our attention to areas of our body that we may not be that aware or conscious of. For example, I’m not sure if I’d ever felt my outer thigh muscles really engaging or felt as upright until I lifted my sternum in yoga. Yoga also shows us how different areas of our body influence each other. For example, a light-bulb moment for me was when I realised that pressing into my big toe mound helped my leg to squeeze in in Lizard Pose, and that reaching my tailbone down helped my belly to engage in Crescent Pose. Another moment was when I felt how sliding my shoulder-blades down my back triggered my back to lift in Cobra.


Yoga invites us to hone in and feel different sensations, helping us to get better at recognising where we can let go and where we can hold on.

Off the mat, a deeper body awareness will help you to get better at recognising physical tension and letting it go. For example, we might notice ourselves hunching our shoulders, (creating tension in our shoulders, neck and back), tensing our belly (restricting our breath), clenching our jaw (causing tension in our face and neck), or clenching our fists (causing tension in our arms). When you recognise what you’re doing, you can let it go. You'll also become better at noticing the triggers/situations that cause you to react in these ways, helping you to manage/reduce your stress response (and maybe influence your decisions and actions).


"Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are." - Chinese Proverb

However, daily stresses on our bodies are part of our lives and yoga is perfect for releasing the physical tension that builds up. For example, there are many poses that help to open/stretch our hips, shoulders and back - areas that hold onto tension. These areas absorb and hold onto tension caused from both our response to stressful situations (e.g. tensing our shoulders) and from daily activities (e.g. walking, sitting, using the computer or phone). Additionally, when we release tension and loosen knots, our body releases endorphins (our feel-good hormone) as opposed to cortisol (our stress hormone) which builds resilience against stress.


3. You build a bond with the present



Thirdly, presence is a key aspect of yoga and yoga encourages us to build a bond with the present. In yoga, we focus on our breath to anchor us to the present moment which rests our normally active minds, helping to relieve mental stress.


Off the mat, our minds are usually busy e.g. thinking about what we need to do next, dwelling on something that happened in the past or worrying about something that might happen in the future. The mental chatter/activity is tiring, which tends to make us feel physically tired as well. When you stay connected to your breath (on and off the mat), your mind is able to rest and recuperate (and enjoy a well-earned break) which relieves stress.


"The body follows the mind, and the mind follows the breath." - Yogi Bhajan

On/off the mat, when we direct our attention inwards (to the breath) and on the present moment, we train our minds to remain focused and calm when we need it the most, helping to manage/reduce our stress response. At the same time, we also activate our body's relaxation response, which allows the cells of our bodies to repair and restore from the effects of stress.

 

Off the mat, quieting the mind to fall asleep can be difficult when we're feeling stressed. To help melt the stress away, 5-10 minutes of a slow comfortable breath is great for relaxing our mind. After beginning, I also recommend carrying out a body scan to release your body from head to toes (you can carry out by saying 'release back of my head, top of head, forehead, soften my face, jaw, neck' etc), aiding a restful sleep to help you wake up feeling restored and ready for the day.


Summary

By building a bond with your breath, you start to become more aware of how your breath can help relieve stress and positively influence how you respond to stressful situations. By building a bond with your body, you start to become more aware and mindful of the effects of stress on your body and how you can manage your stress response in stressful situations. By building a bond with the present, you start to train your mind to remain focused and calm in the present moment (when you need it the most), helping to manage/reduce your stress response. I encourage you to hop on the mat and experience the stress-relieving benefits of yoga. You'll step off the mat feeling restored, revived and calm.


I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on yoga helping to relieve and manage stress. Please leave a comment below or DM me. Namaste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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