Christmas 2018: How Yoga Can Help You to Reduce Stress

reduce stress with yoga

1. Introduction
In this essay I will be discussing how Yoga can be used to reduce stress during the busiest time of the year: christmas. We are living in a
world where everybody wants everything fast. We now get our news instantly on our mobile
phones, our bosses at work want assignments completed immediately and we are in
constant contact with family, friends, work colleagues, Facebook, Instagram etc.
We are constantly bombarded with images, news updates, sports updates, Facebook
messages, text messages, emails and phone calls. Due to this constant bombardment of
information our minds as a society have now been programmed to jump from one image to
the next, one message to the next without there ever being space in between to allow time
to calm our minds. Our mind is constantly jumping from one thought to the next.
As a result of this we lose touch with ourselves and allow our minds to control us. This can
be very dangerous as without the correct control our mind constantly focuses on negative
thoughts – work related issues, how our body looks compared to other images on Instagram
or Facebook, money worries. As we let all these thoughts build and circulate in our mind the
stress that we are under can become more and more, and it can manifest itself in disease for
the physical body.
In this essay I want to show how Yoga can be used as a tool to enable us to take back control
of our minds and allow ourselves the time to stop, breath and bring our awareness back to
ourselves.
I believe that this topic is becoming more and more important in modern day society. As
society advances economically, technologically etc. we are moving ourselves further and
further away from the real beauty of life. I think Yoga can give the people of this modern-day
society the tools in which they can use to realise what is really important in life. Through
Yoga I believe that people can have the opportunity to gain the knowledge required to deal
with the everyday stresses that can result as part of our every day modern life. Yoga can give
people the power to distinguish between what is really important and what we have been
made to think is important by society.

2. What is Yoga and how it can help
Yoga is the union between mind, body and soul with the universe, our true self.
Based on Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras there is a eight fold path that should be followed leading
to this union – this is known as the 8 limbs of Yoga. These are namely:

 YAMA – Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows
 NIYAMA – Positive duties or observances
 ASANA – Posture
 PRANAYAMA – Breathing techniques
 PRATYAHARA – Sense withdrawal
 DHARANA – Focused concentration
 DHYANA – Meditative absorption
 SAMADHI – Bliss or enlightenment

Yoga is a tool that can be used by people living in a stressful modern-day society to deal with
the everyday pressures people are facing all over the world that are the cause of stress.
So many people living busy modern-day lives go through day after day, after day of
unconsciously going about their daily routine. People are so busy with work, family, friends,
bills, exams that they just unconsciously jump from one task to the next with out ever being
fully conscience of what it is they are doing. By simply stopping for 1 minute and checking in
with their breath, listening to their breath and becoming completely aware of their breath
people would have the chance to live more satisfying lives.

3. Asanas
I would recommend that people practice the below 3 Asanas every day in order to reduce
stress levels.

Shashankasana (hare pose) Childs pose
Starting in vajrasana with palms resting on the thighs just above the knees. With eyes closed,
inhale and raise the arms up overhead, shoulder width apart. With exhalation bend forward
from the hips. The hands and forehead should come to rest on the floor in front of the
knees.
This pose can be practiced for up to ten minutes. Holding the pose for longer periods (3 – 10
minutes) has a calming effect on the body and as a result can lead to a reduction in stress
levels.

Padahastasana (Hand to foot pose) Forward bend
Starting in standing position with the spine erect, feet together and hands beside the body.
The weight should be evenly distributed between both feet. First raise the arms up above
the head and in line with your ears, then slowly bend forward, bending from the hips and
maintaining a straight back (if needed the knees can be bent). Your abdomen should be
touching your thighs and your head and neck should be relaxed. Breath slowly and deeply in
the final position.
If possible this pose should be held for 3 – 5 minutes in the final position to achieve the best
calming and stress reducing results.

Savasana (Corpse Pose) full yogic breathing
Lie flat on the back with eyes closed, feet approximately the width of your mat apart and
arms approx. 15cm away from the body with palms facing up. A thin pillow may be placed
under the head and/or a bolster under the knees for added comfort. The head and spine
should be in a straight line. Relax the whole body and try to reduce/eliminate physical
movement. Breathing should be natural and relaxed in this posture.

This pose can be performed for as long as possible. The longer the duration the more
soothing the effects. For relief from stress this posture should be practiced for at least 10
minutes but longer would be better.

4. Pranayama / Meditation
In addition to the above asana practices I would suggest that the person practices both
pranayama and meditation. The person should practice in the following order; first – Asana,
second – Pranayama and third – Meditation.

I would recommend that the person practices Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (alternate nostril
breathing)

This practice can have the following benefits;
Increases awareness and sensitivity in the nostrils, with minor blockages being
removed.
It has a calming effect and can relieve stress and anxiety
It should not be performed by people suffering from colds or flu. As the practice grows and
inner and outer retention is added to the practice, people who are introvert or suffering
from depression should not practice breath retention
It is performed by sitting in a comfortable seated position.
Using Nasagra Mudra with the right hand close the right nostril with the thumb and inhale
through the left nostril.
Now close the left nostril with the ring finger and release the right nostril and exhale out of
the right nostril.
This sequence should then be continued, inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through
the other. As the practice advances the following techniques can be applied;
Increase the length on inhales and exhales
 The length on the exhale is double that of the length of the inhale
 Retain breath on inhalation
 Retain breath on inhalation and exhalation
 Include the use of bandhas

Meditation is definitely a tool that can be used to reduce stress levels. A complete beginner
could begin with simply taking the time to close their eyes in a quiet space and bring their
complete attention to their breath. Focusing on their breath they could perform 10 rounds
of inhalation and exhalation. For a complete beginner even, this simple short practice would
have an effect on their daily stress levels.
This practice could then be extended to the person sitting in a meditative position, closing
their eyes and focusing on their breath for five minutes. This could be increased as the
individual becomes more comfortable in the practice. Sitting in mediation for even short
periods of time (e.g. 5 mins) a beginner will notice that many thoughts will be running
through their mind. The person is advised to not judged these thoughts, do not get upset,
angry, happy or sad by these thoughts but to simply acknowledge the thought and then let it go.

With much practice the thoughts will become less and less and the individual will find
that they can have longer periods of “peace” during meditation.
Taking the time out of a busy day to just sit with your thoughts and focusing on your breath
can have a massive effect on an individuals stress levels.

5. Diet / Ayurveda
Many times, when people are feeling overly stressed it is because they are working
excessively or going through a period of their life where their routine has changed or
become disorganised. Both of these situations can impact negatively on our diet which in
turn can increase stress. If you are working a lot of hours during the week it may be that you
do not get to leave the office to have lunch during the day and instead snack on sugary
sweets and drinks. If you are arriving home late from work you may not feel like cooking
dinner and instead order a take away. If our routine is disorganised or changed drastically
we might skipping breakfast or eating dinner very late and not long before bed time.
To combat stress, and this is most definitely true for times in our life when we have stress
from work, or a sick relative we need to ensure that our diet is a wholesome source of
nourishment and grounding. It is best to eat healthy whole foods and reducing or
eliminating our intake of processed foods, stimulants and refined sugars. It would also be
recommended that the person reduce/eliminate the intake of animal products as these
foods can transfer any toxins/pain to us through consumption.
Our diet should consist of fresh, seasonal produce that is sourced locally. Eating foods that
have been transported long distances generally means that additives have been added to
this to increase their shelf life. These are the types of food that should be avoided.

6. Conclusion
In conclusion to the above highlights how Yoga can help to reduce stress. By living (or trying
to live) a yogic lifestyle and practicing Asana, Pranayama, Meditation and being conscious
about the foods we put in our body we can reduce our stress levels.
By practicing the above methods consistently, we will become more aware of our body,
mind, soul and all of our surroundings. When we are faced by stressful situations in the
future we will have the tools at our disposal to deal with these stresses in a positive way.
If we learn to deal with stress in a positive way, we can become the masters of our stress.
This will lead to a happier, more satisfying life in which we can evaluate more clearly what is
important and what is not important. We can then begin to become detached from the
events/things in our lives that cause us stress but are really not important.

 

About the Author:

Steven travelled to India with his girlfriend Larissa. Both of them completed their 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training with Gyan Yog Breath in November 2018.