Being stressed is easy. Being relaxed is something quite a few of us need to work at.Read More
Yoga is often peddled as an antidote for stress but before we can understand how yoga can help us, we need to understand what stress is and how it affects us. So, what is ‘stress’ and when does it become a problem? (Cheat: watch the videos at the end of this article...)
Stress, in basic terms, is what we associate with the feelings of 'pressure' and 'too much pressure' in our daily lives. Pressure, on its own, is not a bad thing - it motivates us from getting up in the morning, to hitting that deadline. In isolation, these everyday types of stress take place on the bottom rungs of what we could call the ‘stress ladder’ – our feet are never more than a step away from the stress-free safety of the floor.
Moving a few rungs up this ladder - a small jump away from the floor this time - an increased feeling of pressure (although we might still describe these occasions as ‘stressful’), can be encouraging and help us to achieve what we might not have achieved in a more relaxed state. For example, finding your Olympic-standard running legs in the last few minutes before your train leaves the platform; or not giving up in Sirsasana (headstand) because you feel like everyone in the class is watching you. The pressure we might feel in an everyday-kind of stressful situation makes us more efficient and alert.Read More
The benefits of taking time to breathe are common sense, yet taking time to do so is counter-intuitive for most of us. When experiencing stress or feelings of panic, we instinctively know that slowing down our breath might help. We say, ‘calm down… take deep breaths…’ but for a process that happens automatically, controlling our breath can feel like a chore in comparison.
If you are new to yoga and have recently begun a class, you will notice that your teacher constantly instructs you to breathe. To begin with, it’s likely that you will ignore the instruction (intentionally or unintentionally) as you will have much to concentrate on besides when and how to inhale or exhale. How you breathe will be the least of your worries, although you will still benefit from a reminder every now and again. Holding our breath is very common when we are concentrating and it may come as a surprise that your teacher notices you doing this before you do. (Without wishing to give away all the yoga-teaching-circle secrets - your purple-blue face is a good hint!)
Once you have settled into the class routine and have become familiar with some postures, it’s likely that you will have the space to add some breath work into your practice. In the early stages, this is likely to feel unnatural (because it is) and uncomfortable (because it is). You might even feel that breathing is just another aspect of the yoga class that you are getting wrong. As you become more practiced however, this will pass. Learning to breathe (like learning anything new) is difficult – so go ahead and let yourself off the hook.Read More