Yoga for Stress Relief
So I’ve just finished teaching my first retreat of many at Akasha Wellness Centre, and what a paradise it is!! We are nestled on top of the mountains overlooking a valley packed with blossoming healing herbs, trickling streams, and fresh spring water.
I’ve just said bittersweet farewells (or “see ya later”) to my first group of wonderful guests who joined the Yoga and Meditation for Stress Relief Retreat. As they waved goodbye I noticed that their faces had transformed into beaming rays of light… it seems the abundance of nature was a perfect remedy for resetting the mind, body, and soul. Pacha Mama worked her magic for sure!
For me, yoga has been my go to coping tool when stressful situations arise. I remember back when I was in my final year at university, if I started to feel pressure from looming deadlines I’d change my perspective by going upside down or playing around on my hands. I remember spending a lot of time perfecting my headstand, or trying to free up my mind by practicing crow pose... it didn’t make me feel as free as a bird but it did create a much needed sense of release. At the time I didn’t realise the connection between yoga and stress, and the deeper I go into my self practice and research, the more I discover how interconnected yoga and stress relief can be.
Being able to steady the breath, find comfort in the discomfort (notice discomfort not pain!), and focus your mind in a challenging situation, you find the strength to persevere. My great philosophy teacher from India, Sudhir Rishi, once said “the mind gives up long before the body gives up”. This is so true, the mind is powerful in overcoming obstacles but yoga not only resets the mind...
It also has the power to retrain our nervous system; when the fight-or-flight response is activated our breath can become rapid, or we forget to breathe at all, our mind loses focus and we feel overwhelmed by worry or doubt. “I can’t do this pose...there’s no point trying...i’m going to fall”. Of course you’re going to find it hard to balance if your mind is racing, your heart is pounding, and you forget to focus your gaze (or Drishti) to ground you.
But if you come back to the breath and allow that to be your guide, the Steadiness (Sthira) and Ease (Sukkha) will come. You’ll find your focus and irrational thoughts will start to dissolve as you settle into awareness of your body in the present moment.
Once you learn this response on the mat, using your breath to settle and compose yourself, you can use this technique in everyday life. It really works!!
I mean, if I went for a run deep into the forest and came face-to-face with a wild bear ( they have bears in Romania) then yes, my fight-or-flight response is 100% useful. But a lot of the time in life we make a mountain out of a molehill and cause ourselves more stress than is actually needed, allowing our nervous system to run wild and cause unnecessary discomfort and unease. There’s also a sense of confidence that comes with finding this ease, it doesn’t matter whether you nail a headstand or not, it’s more about surrendering to the breath as a guide and knowing that you can find that stillness within at any time. That’s real strength.