Here we are, on the brink of exiting 2020 yet everywhere you look, you’re likely to see people facing an unprecedented amount of stress. With the COVID-19 pandemic comes a barrage of daily health anxieties, rising death tolls, increasing unemployment numbers, and physical isolation — on top of strong feelings of frustration and anger as people protest against injustice across the country
An estimated 80% of visits to a GP are stress related, but only 3% of GPs talk about how to reduce stress. Yoga, meditation are practices which can train the body and mind to be able to cope with stress better and help improve overall health and wellbeing. Exercise, like spinning or weights are very useful to alleviating stress, but yoga is different. It powerfully combines both physical fitness and the philosophy of self compassion and awareness. Its teaches us to be non-judgemental toward ourselves and others, which is a powerful tool for stress relief, since most of our stress come from us being hard on ourselves or frustrated by others.
Yoga talk about the union of body and mind, connected as one. Stress in one domain will affect the other and vice versa and many of us will live in either our mind or our body. This contributes to creating an imbalance and even lack of awareness. Those with very analytical or their work requires that discipline, may spend a lot of time in their mind and not realise how much tension has manifested itself into the body or is being stored there. If your active and partake in exercise you may be keenly aware of your body, but may benefit by becoming more aware of your mental state. Where Yoga comes in, is helping you to create balance and tone and connection between the two.
Yoga can train the counter stress response system the parasympathetic nervous system. Building yoga into a regular practice the chronic daytime stress hormone levels can drop and the heart rate variability increases which is a measure of your ability to tolerate stress. This has shown to improve even after a few sessions of yoga.
Use your breath
Breath is a key tool to turn the dial down on stress. Ujjayi breath, taking a deep slow breath through your nose and exhaling through your nose whilst constricting the back of the throat in a ‘ha’ sound vibration with the mouth closed. The breath should be audible to someone next to you, like the sound of the ocean. Another breath is Alternative Nasal Breathing. This is where you breath through one open nostril whilst constricting the other and exhaling out the opposite.
Meditation is important to the yoga practice and has been shown to effectively reduce stress. Learn to practice a short guided meditation to unwind at the end of a stressful day. RAIN is a mindfulness tool described by Tara Brach as
R – Recognise what is happening
A – Allow life just to be
I – Investigate inner experience with kindness
N – Non-identification – awareness that we are not defined or limited by our emotions or stories.
Be Kind to yourself
Kindness and positive emotions protect and cushion you from the burdens of stress and have been shown to improve physical health and depression. It’s easy to learn how to be hard on ourselves/, so unlearning that self judgement can be difficult but worthwhile. It takes concerted practice and intention every day. So how can you learn to be kind on a daily basis? Create time to spend time with someone you value. Allow time spend doing an activity you enjoy. Extending kindness to ourselves first and foremost, we are able to expand our ability to accept, forgive and love. Positive emotions will naturally grow around us and reduce our stress on us and others.
Let's remain positive as we look towards 2021 and learn to be kind to ourselves and others around us too.
The On Demand channel 'Breathing Space' provide tutorials and access to the breathing techniques above.