I read an article recently, written by a personal trainer and yoga instructor about how yoga can affect positive change in our stress-related, self-defeating habits. As a person who is a newer yogi (person who practices yoga), I am definitely a believer in the healing power of yoga classes. I will admit, that I did not feel that way after my first class ever...or, if I'm going to be honest, not after the first week of classes either.
Before I get into my personal experience with yoga, let’s review the facts about how yoga can help fight stress and anxiety. Chronic stress takes a tremendous toll on us. It keeps our muscles tense, our breathing constricted, our minds racing, and our body’s in a constant state of fight or flight. Yoga exercises encourage our bodies to release built up muscle tension, flushing these muscle groups out with fresh, oxygenated, nutrient rich blood. In a sense, yoga communicates to our entire body, It’s ok, just relax. Poses involving the entire body are helpful to us in encouraging true deep rhythmic breathing. Stretching out the core and allowing the lungs to fill to capacity, helping to oxygenate the blood.
All sounds good right? Logically, I think we can all wrap our minds around the fact that yoga is awesome for our health. Beginning classes was very difficult for me. Of course, yoga helps with flexibility and is great for my physical health. While it’s difficult to be patient to see these results in weight loss, better muscle tone and strength, I can hang in there. For me, the most difficult part of practicing yoga is to get my mind focused on exactly what I’m doing, how I am feeling and nothing else in the given moment. I love fun exercise classes that help me forget that I’m working out; Zumba, spin, etc. Yoga (while fun) is the exact opposite. Being mindful of each movement is one of the key aspects AND the part of this practice that has helped me learn to manage stress and anxiety.
I have a couple suggestions for yoga beginners.
- It took me several classes to get comfortable moving through all of the poses without needing to sit down and rest. Even after going to classes pretty consistently, there is still the occasional class where I feel overwhelmed and have to chill out during class and rest. I recommend trying a beginner’s class if your yoga studio offers it.
- In the beginning I was very focused on trying to get the poses right. I’ve learned that yoga is an individual “sport”. There is not right way to do the poses, there is only the right way for you. During each class, even in the beginning, listen to what your body is telling you. Take each pose slowly.
- My final and TOP suggestion is the focus on your breathing. Throughout class, during each pose and the stillness between each pose focus on breathing in through your nose, out through your mouth, slowly and consistently. This helps me especially when my heart starts to race and my muscles get shaky during a class….hmm these things also happen when I feel stressed or anxious. Starting to see the connection here?
- Start slow. Try one class. Go several times before you decide if it is something that you will benefit from.
The principals of practice, concentrating on deep breathing, listening to what your body is telling you, focusing on the things you can control, all begin to seep into everyday life outside of the yoga studio. These same principals can assist us manage our feelings of anxiety. Yoga emphasizes a connection between mind, body and spirit that I have not found in any other type of physical exercise. I’d love to hear from others who’ve integrated yoga into their wellness practices! Where do you yoga? How does it help you?