If you’ve ever tried yoga, you’ll know how tough it can be physically. There are plenty of classes out there for those seeking a better body, a healthier mind or to work on their fitness. However, a good yoga class and by extension a good yoga teacher will balance both the mental and physical aspects of a yoga routine.
Yoga itself is more than just a series of postures and exercise. It’s a philosophy. It’s described in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, because “Yoga is the suppression of the activities of the mind.” In the Bhagavad Gita it says “Know that which is called yoga to be separation from contact with suffering.” Yoga’s original purpose is more on the psychological and mental planes than the physical. The postures or asana are designed to bring balance to the body to help calm and control the senses. The final goal of all this? “Inner peace”.
To put it in very simple terms, the Yoga Sutras say that we are blocked from knowing our true inner self due to interfering thoughts. The turbulence we experience through emotions and stress is part of what yoga aims to calm. It can be quite a bit different from what’s taught in some of the classes. Though at the end of your Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) you should not just feel it in your body but if you follow 10 sequences with a corpse pose (Shavasana) you should find that you get some pretty awesome yoga sleep without meaning to.
How do I find the right yoga class for stress relief?
What’s the purpose of the class?
Is it for weight loss? Is it marketed as exercise? What type of yoga is it? If the teacher is pushing it as exercise, it’s likely that the teacher is less focussed on the mind and is more concerned about the body. Mind and body is a big thing in yoga. Some types of yoga have a very small physical component. Hatha yoga is the type responsible for the popularisation of asana (yoga poses). When choosing a class that will reduce stress Hatha yoga can help as asana are great for releasing tension. Don’t let this put you off other options though!
I have never tried yoga before, do I need to do a beginners’ class?
You shouldn’t need to. There’s no such thing as someone that is “good” or “bad” at yoga. It’s all about practice.The same goes to using it as a stress management tool. So maybe you aren’t flexible. Maybe you never will be. It doesn’t mean that you won’t reap the benefits.
The two most beneficial poses for stress relief are said to be child’s pose (Bālāsana) and corpse pose (Shavasana). These two aren’t the most demanding of postures. But even saying that, there are variations of all postures that allow you to develop your ability as you practice. If cobra pose is difficult, start with sphinx. If eagle pose is too hard, start with chair pose. As you combine easier poses together, you’ll develop your body and be able to take the postures deeper.
What positions will help?
Always start with a warmup. This isn’t exercise though. A yoga warm up should include grounding, and if you can include pranayama techniques, that’s ideal.
What’s pranayama? Yogic breathing. There’s many types, though one that you should really learn is alternate nostril breathing. It’s function is to balance the energies that flow in your body. Do you ever feel like your body is beginning to panic, or like things are progressing out of control in life when logically you know they aren’t? That physical tension you get in your chest, that’s the energy imbalance that alternate nostril breathing aims to fix. These techniques are known for their effect on the nervous system. Modern psychology has also many studies into breathing techniques that support this claim.
Postures that emphasize the importance of balance, steadiness, and good grounding, will also help. Warriors, triangle, and for the brave, half moon pose. The focus on grounding that these postures offer will help get those runaway stresses under control. Make sure you keep your breathing slow and controlled.
Yoga with Adriene is a really good youtube channel for yoga and her sequence for anxiety and stress is amazing. If you’re in need of some stress relieving yoga break out the yoga mat and give it a go!
Yoga: if you find a good class (or youtube channel) where the teacher guides you through a full yogic experience working on the mind body will definitely help with your stress. It’s also hard to complain about the physical health benefits that come as a side-effect too.