Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How Yoga Helps Stress

Yoga restores natural balance and harmony from within enabling you to live a happier and stress free life.
Stress can be described as the way you feel when pressure is placed upon you. The emphasis is on the word you because what can be a stressor to one person can actually be a motivator to another. Stress therefore is the way we each, as individuals, respond to a situation.
There is a never ending list of life situations we may find stressful. A few common examples are relationships, financial pressures, low self esteem and lack of confidence, boredom, loneliness, divorce, moving home and work.
Our autonomic nervous system is responsible for involuntary functions; those which happen automatically within the body, and has two opposing branches; the sympathetic and parasympathetic.
When we are faced with a stressful situation, the body releases adrenaline and through the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, initiates the fight or flight response. We jump into action in whatever way is necessary to deal with the situation.
The parasympathetic branch then calms everything back down and restores the body to homeostasis; its natural balance. The fight or flight response is therefore very effective at protecting us.
However, when we are faced with recurring stressful situations and we trigger this response too often we tip the balance.
The sympathetic branch is working overload and gives the parasympathetic branch little time to perform its function. It becomes increasingly difficult for the body to restore its natural balance.
The nervous system is at the centre of our being and comprises the brain, spinal cord, nerves and sense organs. Importantly, it controls all other systems of the body and so this imbalance impacts heavily on other bodily functions. It is at this point that we can begin to experience the symptoms of stress.
There are many short and long term symptoms of stress. Short term symptoms can include tension headaches, tense back, shoulder and neck muscles, indigestion, disturbed sleep, digestive disorders such as diarrhoea and constipation, disturbed sleep, loss or gain in appetite, dizziness and palpitations. If the underlying cause is not resolved and we continue to experience stress long term symptoms can include migraine and frequent headaches, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, ulcers, skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis, and immune system deficiency; experiencing frequent colds.
It is estimated that a staggering 75% of all visits to the GP are stress related. Rather than just treating the symptoms of stress it is paramount, if we are to overcome stress, to treat the underlying cause.
Yoga provides an overall solution to reducing and relieving stress impacting all three levels of our being; mind, body and spirit.
PataƱjali defines yoga in sutra 1.2, as the ability to direct the mind toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions, and in sutra 1.3, then the ability to understand the object fully and correctly is apparent.
A regular yoga practice, where we are focusing on our breath uniting mind, body and spirit with universal consciousness brings about deeper self realisation which can spark the process for change.
By bringing this conscious awareness to the stress we are experiencing we can begin to understand more of ourselves and address the underlying cause of our stress.
When we practice yoga we connect with our true self, that which encourages us to nurture a more kind and loving relationship toward ourselves.
On a physiological and psychological level, the asanas themselves bring their own set of benefits and allow the autonomic nervous system to restore the body's natural balance.
In reducing stress standing postures work to cleanse and detox the systems of the body, calming the nervous system leaving you feeling centred and calm.
Try practising Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog), Utthita and Parivritta Trikonasana (Extended and Revolved Triangle), Utthita and Parivritta Parsvakonasana (Extended and Revolved Side Angle), Utkatasana (Fierce posture or Chair), Prasarita Padottanasana (Feet Spread Intense Stretch), and Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch).
Balancing postures such as Natarajasana (Dancer) energise the mind whilst encouraging focus.
Inverted postures reverse the effects of gravity. The brain is replenished and the nervous system strengthened, the entire system revitalised. Try Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand), Halasana (Plow) and Sirsasana (Headstand).
Of all yoga asanas, backbends encourage a release of emotional energy, awakening, enlivening and refreshing the whole system. Try Bhujangasana (Cobra), Ustrasana (Camel), Setu Bandhasana (Bridge), Dhanurasana (Bow), Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Facing Bow) and
Matsyasana (Fish).
Twisting postures such as Marichyasana naturally aid the body in restoring homeostasis.
Forward bending postures soothe the nervous system, and increase the supply of oxygen to the brain. They release tension and promote a deeper self awareness. Try Paschimottanasana (Western Intense Stretch), Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee), Upavishta Konasana (Seated Angle) and Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana (Three Limbs Face One Foot Western Intense Stretch).
Finally, sitting postures such as Padmasana (Lotus) calm and centre the mind, soothe the nervous system and bring about clarity.
A yoga practice breathes a fresh perspective into your being, expanding your self awareness and through the physical practice brings about many changes to all three levels of your being, uniquely addressing both the cause and symptoms of stress in one holistic blend.
No-one wants to experience stress and truly we all seek to be happy. Happiness is about finding the balance. When we are balanced within, we are balanced without, that is to say that our external world, our life situation and what we experience on a day to day basis flows as easily and effortlessly as the function of the natural state of the autonomic nervous system.
Shelley Costello is a yogi, writer and life coach and aims to help others to live a happier, healthier and more fulfilled life. Her specific areas of coaching expertise include relationships, self esteem and confidence, health, wellbeing and stress management.
Having overcome and experienced many life events Shelley qualified as a life coach, yoga teacher, meditation teacher, Indian head masseuse and has studied Buddhism and nutrition. She is currently studying for a BA Hons degree in English Language and Literature.
Shelley has published several articles with the international Yoga Magazine and her first book, Holiday Road, was published in March 2011. She is currently writing her second book, due to be published Spring 2012.
Shelley offers life coaching sessions and shares her knowledge and wisdom in the areas of yoga and coaching online through her websites.

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