Manage Your Stress

The word on the street is that yoga can help to reduce stress in your life. But stress is a complex topic, and there are a lot of different kinds of yoga out there. So you may wonder, how does it all work? 
 
Stress is caused by the release of a hormone in your body called cortisol. 
 
When life circumstances become difficult to manage, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) kicks in and releases cortisol to heighten your awareness, pump blood to your limbs, and focus your brain to get the task done. Later your parasympathetic nervous system (PSN) is supposed to help you recover by bringing you back to a state a relaxation. If you spend a lot of time in a state of stress, it is common for the PNS not switch on, and when you don’t fully recover stress is compounded.
 
To find the most effective tool to manage stress and triumph in your life you don’t have to look any further than your breath. Each inhalation is inherently up-regulating while each exhalation is down-regulating. When your heart-rate differs on inhalation vs. exhalation it shows you have a more flexible nervous system that can more easily go from an energized state to a relaxed state.
 
Some people are overwhelmed by stress and have the tendency to shut down and disconnect when life gets stressful. Disengagement and avoidance can lead to depression. For someone like this to combat stress, they need to develop the energy to tackle the situation and the mental stamina to stay present with it. 
 
Other people get stuck in an activated state which can lead to anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and other difficulties. This person needs to train their PSN to put the brakes on stress. They can learn how to down-regulate by relaxing, letting go, and quieting the mind to bring balance back.
 
Do you know which is your tendency?
 
Your respiratory diaphragm is the muscle that controls your breathing. It works automatically, but you also have control over it and can regulate it. Yoga practices that work with the breath are called Pranayama, which has to do with regulating and expanding your life force energy.
 

I am a big advocate of stretching and strengthening your diaphragm, just like you would any other muscle in your yoga practice. This gives you access to a healthy breathing pattern. You can start by resetting your breath. It is your first tool to manage stress. I have created a 3-minute video to help do just that.

In addition, a regular yoga practice can help you manage stress further. Here’s how it works.

When you perform an asana (yoga pose), it is meant to take you out of your comfort zone. It becomes the stressor. You can’t ignore or escape it; you have to be with it, breathe in it. And with your breath mechanism working properly, over time the uncomfortable spot becomes more bearable, until maybe you actually even enjoy the pose! 

It’s important to realize that I am not just talking about twisted pretzel shapes here. You may find laying still in Savasana (relaxation pose) is the most uncomfortable pose! Either way a regular yoga practice prepares you to meet any stressor your day may unexpectedly bring, with skill and grace.

So here’s what you do: Study yourself. Pay attention to which poses bring on the most discomfort. Then, don’t try to fight yourself there, find your edge. Focus and use your breath to both expand your boundaries and learn to let go. Before long you will see an increase in your ability to manage stress.
 

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