No matter who we are, we have it. We have it when we’re running late for work, we have it when we fight with our spouse, we have it when we smell the turkey dinner we’ve fixed for our new in-laws burning in the oven. Even those of us who appear perpetually happy have it. No one is immune to it, no one is safe from it, and no one knows fully how to beat it. It is a world-wide epidemic. It is stress.
Though no Jonas Salk-like character has come in with a magic cure or vaccine, stress is still a manageable condition; it has to be, or the human race would be extinct. From eating right to cutting down on caffeine, from quitting smoking to exercising, there are ways to reduce stress behind every corner. And, sometimes, there are more unique ways to reduce stress simply up and around the bend.
Yoga and Stress Reduction
In today’s day and age it seems as though everyone has an understanding of what Yoga is and what Yoga does. However, this is not always the case and some people are left not knowing, knowing only half the story, or completely under the impression that Yoga is the name of the bear who teases the forest ranger in the Hanna Barbara cartoon.
Yoga, in the literal sense, means “unite,” a unification of mind, body, and soul that results in a feeling of wholeness. A broad term used to describe a series of practices, Yoga involves concentration techniques, breathing steps, and a series of static or moving poses.
There are many ways that Yoga relieves stress. First off, because Yoga helps to balance physical aspects of health – such as increasing the immune system, improving digestion, and decreasing cholesterol – and because physical aspects of health and mental aspects of health form a merger with the birth of every new body, physical aspects and mental aspects are in direct correlation. Feeling physically well always counteracts the effects of feeling mentally stressed.
Yoga also directly attacks stress, beating it on the battlegrounds before posing for a victory photo. Because Yoga balances the different systems of the body, the central nervous system, the endocrine system, and the digestive system, it balances mental activity, slowing it down in the process. Yoga also stretches the body, providing a masseuse for internal organs, and creating a sense of peace from the inside out.
In addition, Yoga can sharpen concentration, increase body awareness, and relieve muscle strain, all of which can be factors of stress. It teaches people how to focus on relaxing, instead of focusing on the stress and worry usually at the center of the human attention span.
These factors all work together to temporarily remove people from obsessing about the “to-do” list of life; yoga practice gives people a reprieve and a sense of control. Through breathing techniques, people learn to stay calm, building up a stronger, natural response to stress and a more relaxed sense of being.
Another way Yoga fights stress is through the exercise of Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice where a person focuses on his or her thoughts in the present moment, objectively concentrating on every movement of the body and every idea and notion of the mind. In sum, Mindfulness is a specific method of paying attention, teaching people to peer deeply inside themselves to achieve self-understanding and self-healing. Though it has Buddhist roots, Mindfulness is not dependent on a single belief system and is therefore accessible to people in all walks of life.
Through regular practice of Yoga, people learn to minimize stress by focusing on their body’s natural harmonious rhythm rather than the outside world’s chaotic beat. This in turn allows the body to return to its natural state of well-being, unharmed from outside factors. While it doesn’t make stress disappear, it decreases the influence it has on the body, causing stress to decompress.
TWISTED is a medical yoga studio at the Center for Osteopathic Medicine in Boulder, Colorado. Twisted integrates osteopathic medicine, hatha yoga and mindfulness practices to teach optimal balance between physical, mental, and emotional health. It aims to educate and help people to live a healthy life – from the inside out. Rehabilitation programs offer a comprehensive treatment regime for the whole being. Empowering each person, one breath at a time, to stimulate the body’s natural healing potential.
Jennifer Jordan is senior editor of http://www.yogatwisted.com. Specializing in articles that not only teach yoga techniques, but also teach techniques on fulfillment and enrichment, she aims to educate students proudly enrolled in the school of life.