“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.”
Yoga is a path of self-study, self-awareness, and self-acceptance. At its core, yoga seeks to establish a union between the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of our being. The central ethos of a yoga practice is to seek this union, thereby welcoming practitioners into a state of presence where stress and anxiety are inherently less.
For many, stress and anxiety have become normalized, somehow worn as a badge of dedication, success, and hard work. The everyday demands of work, family, and daily responsibilities, along with societal and global concerns, have often established a general sense of unease, overwhelm, stress, and emotional depletion that many of us have come to accept as normal.
Yoga offers a rest bite from this illusionary state of being by creating a place of radical self-acceptance, presence, self-expression, gratitude, and perspective. Through the teachings of yoga, practitioners can experience an empowered & embodied state of being.
Yoga is a remembrance of our own agency over our thoughts, actions, words, and, ultimately, our reality. Yoga is a somatic experience where energy is transformed instead of transmuted; thus, the practice allows space for authentic, transformative, and lasting growth.
In this article, we first establish what stress and anxiety is as well as their root cause. In understanding this, we can begin to explore how yoga's physical benefits have been shown to have a profound impact on mental well-being and provide tips for how small practices of yoga can be weaved into everyday life to create a more balanced and harmonious way of being.
Stress is our body’s natural response to change and is what allows us to address the regular challenges and difficulties of everyday life so that we may grow and adapt. Stress is typically a response to an external trigger, such as running late to an appointment, a work deadline, a fight with a loved one, an exam, or a high-pressure situation.
Stress can easily become unhealthy when it begins to upset our day-to-day functioning. The impact of stress is felt by every person differently, stress can have a significant impact on every system within the body, affecting how we think, feel, and behave. In our modern high-pressure society, it can be difficult to pinpoint one key cause of stress; for many of us, an accepted level of mental, physical, or emotional stress has become normal, and thus many people are experiencing the psychological and physiological result of this.
Anxiety is a response to stress and can be understood as a persistent state of worry, nervousness, tension, or unease. Typically, anxiety doesn’t go away when the stressor is removed. Anxiety takes us away from the present with a preoccupation with either the past or worry for the future.
Stress and anxiety manifest in the experience of physical, mental, and emotional disease. Examples include symptoms such as irritability, anger, fatigue, brain fog, muscle pain, digestive issues, and insomnia.
Mild stress and anxiety can be managed with awareness of a healthy and holistic way of being. This is where the living tradition of Yoga as a holistic lifestyle system can be revolutionary for those experiencing overwhelmed by day-to-day life.
If you feel that stress and/or anxiety are affecting your emotional, physical, or mental well-being or how you show up in your daily life, please consider talking to a healthcare professional who can help you understand what you are experiencing and provide you with advice and coping tools.
The beauty of Yoga is that, at its core, it is based on an understanding of non-dualism, that there is no division or separateness. In this essence, the practices, philosophies, and teachings of Yoga tradition can be included in every modern lifestyle. Yoga seeks to meet practitioners where they are, establishing an internal sense of acceptance, compassion, and authority. This foundation of knowing rooted through the practices has been proven over centuries of practice to overcome stress and anxiety.
Through physical activity (asana), meditation, self-study (sadhana), dedication, and discipline, yoga can become our personalized tool kit of grounding and nourishment.
The benefits of Yoga include:
Yoga is a practice of union between the different states of being: the emotional, mental, and physical bodies. Through the combination of physical postures (asanas), breath awareness (pranayama), and meditation, we become more attuned to the sensations and rhythms of our bodies. This heightened awareness fosters a deeper connection and understanding of ourselves. With this heightened awareness, we observe the patterns of holding tension caused by stress and anxiety. From that awareness, we can work to physically and emotionally release, and with prolonged practice, we become acutely attuned to the fluctuations of our physical, emotional, and mental states and our own unique holding tendencies. This awareness allows us not to be ruled by these fluctuations giving us a toolkit of release.
Yoga asana practices, along with regular meditation and pranayama (breath awareness) are fundamental practices that invite present-moment awareness; being fully engrossed in these practices allows the mind to slow down and remove itself from thinking about the stressors leading to stress and anxiety.
Further, engaging in yoga postures and deep, rhythmic breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body's natural"rest and digest" response. This counteracts the fight-or-flight response triggered by stress, calming the mind and soothing the body. Over time, with focused and attentive awareness, practitioners can feel that stress levels decrease, allowing for greater emotional balance.
Regular practice can help us become more aware of thought patterns, reactions, and actions to everyday fluctuations. Yoga philosophy teaches us the importance of tapas (discipline), ahimsa (compassion), and aparigraha (non-attachment). These essential teachings of yoga philosophy are cultivated through dedication to asana, meditation, and focused breathing; over time, we become familiar with the fluctuations of the mind and empowered by the ability to challenge ourselves beyond the fluctuations.
With tapas (discipline) we come to these practices in times of challenge. With ahimsa (compassion) we learn to accept ourselves where we are, and through aparigraha, we find detachment from external stressors or anxiety-inducing thoughts. This establishes an internal sense of empowerment in knowing that we are in control of our thoughts and actions; this empowerment can be a life raft in overcoming the feelings of overwhelms that come from feelings of anxiety and stress.
Similarly, in how yoga invites us to remember our own empowerment, yoga also fosters emotional resilience, which is our ability to bounce back from life's challenges. Change and challenge are a given in life, and stress is our natural response to this. However, yoga can give us the tools to notice and harness this stress rather than become overwhelmed by it. Regular practice in observing the mind, body, and emotions creates familiarity and acceptance of thought patterns. Often, by slowing down in the practices and developing mental strength, fortitude, and flexibility on the yoga mat, we can better navigate the ups and downs of life off the mat. This resilience reduces the impact of stress and anxiety and enhances overall well-being and balance.
Stress and anxiety wreak havoc on our sleep patterns, and it’s well-known that proper rest is fundamental to our health. Yoga creates a space for exploring rest and relaxation techniques to improve sleep quality. Practices like yoga nidra, guided meditations, and proper breath techniques promote deep relaxation and can be especially effective for those struggling with insomnia. Not only do these practices calm the mind, but they also reduce physical tension, making space for a restful and rejuvenating sleep.
While yoga is a journey of self-awareness and discovery, it does not have to be a solo practice; joining a supportive and like-minded community where we are able to connect with like-minded friends who have been called to the practices for similar reasons to you, who have experienced the same benefits and who share the same commitment to well-being can be profoundly comforting and reassuring. Yoga can provide the space for a sense of belonging and support, which can be especially valuable as we deal with stress and anxiety.
Understanding the definition of yoga beyond asana, as a holistic approach to living it’s philosophies and practices can be harnessed as a means of reducing stress and anxiety, through daily practices, we can observe our true nature, honor our inner wisdom, and build resilience to overcome life stressors.
These practices are essential for maintaining our overall mental and physical well-being. Incorporating these practices into your routine can help you manage stress and anxiety and give you the tools to maintain a sense of calm and balance in your life.
Here are some daily practices to consider
Remember that reducing stress and anxiety is a personal journey, and it may take time to find the combination of practices that work best for you. Experiment with the tools, philosophies, teachings of yoga, and daily practices to explore how they impact your lifestyle. We advise adapting the above to suit your lifestyle and being patient with yourself as you work towards a more relaxed and balanced state of mind. Know that you are human, the responses to stress and anxiety are completely normal, and you have all you need to navigate your way through any challenges.
“TELL ME, WHAT IS IT YOU PLAN TO DO WITH YOUR
ONE WILD AND PRECIOUS LIFE?”
- Mary Oliver