Yoga Techniques to Reduce Stress
Stress is a normal physical response that is necessary for day to day functioning. Stress keeps us alert and focussed. It increases motivation, enhances creativity and encourages us to rise to meet different challenges.
When we sense danger or feel threatened the stress response is the body’s way of providing protection, also known as the fight or flight reaction. It can speed up reactions and provide us with extra strength.
The stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations
However when stress becomes overwhelming it can be incredibly harmful and may damage health, moods, productivity, relationships and quality of life.
Too much stress unbalances the nervous system, which today is a common occurrence.
To achieve optimum levels of health, a healthy balance between stress and relaxation needs to be developed. It is important to be able to acknowledge when stress is detrimental and when it is necessary. Yoga helps to establish a deeper connection with ourselves this enables us to identify when stress is at an unhealthy level and act accordingly to help us re-establish equilibrium.
Yoga postures, pranayamas, relaxation and meditation techniques counteract the stress response and balance the nervous system.
Quite simply yoga increases health and vitality. When we feel healthy, we experience less stress. A little yoga every day will maintain a healthy balance between stress and relaxation.
A stress reducing yoga practice needs to contain sufficient winding down techniques to induce relaxation, balance and harmony.
Asanas to help reduce stress
Sukhasana (the easy pose) and Anjali Mudra
Begin in Sukhasana, by sitting with the ankles crossed and a straight spine. Join your palms into a prayer position and bring the thumbs to your sternum. Drop your chin a little and breathe slowly through your nose, feel that you are growing out of the crown of your head, draw up your lower abdominal muscles, broaden your upper back and release your shoulders away from your ears.
Work to slow your breath down and feel all tension leave your body with each exhalation.
This posture is fantastic to help relieve stress, often when feeling stressed stillness can be challenging. As this posture involves movement it can help to calm a restless mind without requiring the body to be still.
Begin on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Exhale and as you do so look through your legs and round your spine up towards the ceiling. As you do so draw up the lower abdominal muscles and pull your navel towards your spine. When you inhale lengthen your torso moving through your starting position and then tilt your pelvis up and lift your chest and head. Continue to roll through cat coordinating your breath to you movement for ten or more complete breaths.
Balasana (extended child)
This posture helps to still the mind and allows the body to rest.
From Cat release your bottom back onto your heels and slowly extend the arms in front of you, release your forearms and relax your forehead to the ground. Remain in this posture breathing slowly in and out through the nose for at least twenty complete breaths. Watch your breath and become aware of all of the movement through the back of your rib cage as you breathe slowly.
Matsyasana (the fish)
Matsyasana will open the chest and the heart centre. By opening the chest it becomes easier to breathe fully into the lungs increasing the amount of oxygen that is drawn into the body. As oxygen is our main source of fuel the more oxygen received the better the body functions.
Lay on your back with the arms alongside your body, keep the arms beside the body as you bend your elbows lifting your upper body so that you are resting on your forearms, then lift your sternum so that you are looking up and opening your chest, now lower the top of your head towards the ground.
Breathe slowly in and out through your nose. If support is required you may place a bolster under your upper back and just look up, you do not have to take the top of your head to the floor.
Jathara Parivrttasana (Spinal Twist)
This posture helps to relieve muscular tension in the lower back and is an extremely nurturing.
Begin laying on your back with your knees bent, your arms out level with your shoulders and your palms facing up. Inhale and as you exhale let your knees fall to the right and turn your head to the left. As you inhale lift your knees up in the centre and as you exhale allow the knees to fall to the left and turn your head to the right. Continue like this for at least ten complete breaths working both sides equally.
Viparita Karani (legs up the wall)
This posture has both a soothing and energizing effect. Often called the fountain of youth pose, it can be performed by everyone.
Lie flat on the back with your legs extended up a wall and the arms by the side of your body with the palms up.
Breathe slowly in and out through your nose for as long as you feel necessary working to release tension with each exhalation.
What part do Pranayamas play in stress reduction?
Pranayamas can greatly help induce a state of deep relaxation.
When we inhale we stimulate the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the “fight or flight response” this brings an energising effect to both body and mind. The exhalation stimulates the parasympathetic part of the nervous system which is responsible for telling the muscles to relax, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure and helping you sleep better.
When practicing pranayamas to stimulate the relaxation response work to slowly lengthen the outbreath.
Spending a few minutes in meditation will relax and calm the mind bringing peace and clarity.
Meditation will activate the relaxation response and also promote mindfulness, which helps us to recognize unhelpful patterns of thought that could trigger the stress response.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that meditating for 25 minutes for three days can significantly lower stress and boost the ability to endure stress.
Amongst many things yogic philosophy teaches that nothing is permanent. There is a constant rise and fall of energy, emotion and action. No one can control 100% what’s going to happen. When we realize and acknowledge that we can’t control the future and that everything is constantly changing it can remove some pressure, this alone may lower stress levels.
“Take care of the present and the future will take care of itself.” Hindu Sage - Ramana Marashi (30 December 1879 – 14 April 1950)
Diet and Lifestyle
Diet has a big impact on our stress levels.
Eat a well-balanced healthy diet that contains plenty of nutrients and vitamins.
Studies show that vitamin C will reduce stress and return blood pressure and cortisol levels to normal after a stressful situation.
Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands in response to stress.