Stress – is it all in our mind?

We all have stress, but really what is stress? What does it actually mean to be stressed? And how can yoga help us manage stress?

Dr Hans Selye first popularised the term in the 1950’s based on his extensive studies of what happens to animals when injured or placed under extreme conditions. In modern times it has become an umbrella term for all the various pressures we face in life. Selye defines stress as the total response of your organism (mind and body) to whatever stressors you experience. The stressor is the stimulus that produces the stress response.

So what happens when we get stressed?

Check out this great video from mind body expert Craig Hassed MD: Stress and your body.

Yoga provides effective tools and techniques to address the stress response and perceptions of our stressors. I personally have been managing anxiety and stress successfully with yoga for many years now. Here’s a quick guide on how yoga can help.

Invoke the relaxation response: Firstly it’s important to address the body’s physiological response to stress as outlined by Craig Hassard. We can do this with practices that relax the nervous system and switch off the stress response. We can use the breath in specific ways, deeply relax the whole body and use movement to release tension.

Breathe: It seems simple enough, and it is! Simply by bringing our attention to the breath, we become more aware of our being and what’s going on internally. We can also use the exhalation and inhalation in different ways to calm or energise.

Energise: Often when we are stressed we feel exhausted and all we want to do is relax or sleep, which is good for invoking the relaxation response, but we also need energy and strength to face difficult or busy times. We can choose specific yoga postures to increase energy, build confidence and make our bodies feel strong, like a warrior ready for battle.

Mindful: On a very basic level stress is our response to the stressors we face. If we can change our relationship to what stresses us we will be better able to cope. Mindfulness is about becoming curious, being an inner scientist so we can see really clearly what happens we get when we get caught up in our thoughts and the resulting behaviours. We can use formal meditation practices, mindful yoga and simple exercises (like the breath). With awareness we can learn to observe how we are feeling in the body, what thoughts are running in the mind, and create opportunity for better choices of action to re balance.

Once you have a few tools and techniques you can apply these to different situations. For example:

  • After a busy day at work you could do a few simple postures with the breath targeting the tense areas of your body followed by a brief relaxation to unwind.
  • To set you up ready for the day ahead you could start with meditation, or a focused breathing exercise followed by a few energising postures.
  • On the weekend when you have more time you could do a longer guided relaxation.

To learn more about yoga for stress management check out the next 4 week ‘Yoga for Stress’ course.

By booking on the course you will also receive a significant discount for the mind body documentary ‘The Connection’.