It’s a good time to develop a stress-relieving toolkit for yourself and yoga offers a holistic wellness practice. While yoga is a great workout, it’s also much more than physical poses. The sanskrit word “yoga” means union. Yoga poses (asana) are one of eight parts of yoga. To start accessing the full stress relieving benefits of yoga, practice self-observation, breath control, movement, and meditation. First, go into energy-saving mode to set a good foundation for your practice!
Yoga teaches us to come from a place of observation instead of judgment. When was the last time you observed an experience without shifting to judgment? How much energy did that judgment drain from you? Renowned yogi and namesake of the Kripalu Center, Swami Kripalu, stated “The highest spiritual practice is self-observation without judgment.” It’s easy to fall into old patterns of judging yourself, but it’s liberating to let go of “shoulds” (i.e. I should be more/less____). As you’re going about your day, come from a place of observing and witnessing without judgment. This technique puts you in energy-saving mode!
Strengthen Your Breath
Before moving the body, we turn our attention inward and focus on the breath. Breathwork strengthens lung capacity and soothes the nervous system. It’s a shortcut to relieving stress. Studies show breathing practice is “an effective non-pharmacological intervention for emotion enhancement, including a reduction in anxiety, depression, and stress.”
Start by observing the inhalation and exhalation. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Inhale to a count of 4, pause for a moment and hold your breath, exhale to a count of 4, and pause again. Next repeat to a count a 5 and then a count of 6. Slow and steady breath–inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Notice how your body feels after switching from shallow breathing to breathing deeply. You can practice this daily and/or anytime you start to feel stressed or anxious.
Take Movement Breaks
The physical asana practice of yoga helps to release negative patterns of stress. It’s believed that emotions like stress and anxiety can get physically lodged in the body, and certain areas of the body are prone to tightness. For example, the hips are known to store emotional energy (and trauma) and many of us sit at a desk for hours each day with our hips closed.
Have you ever had trouble bending down to pick something up? That’s tightness in the hips. Anytime you’ve been sitting for a while take a few minutes to open the hips. Stand near a wall for support and gently release one knee to the ground in a lunge. Hold for 5-8 rounds of breath. Now do the same with the opposite knee. Hip-opening poses like this help maintain healthy hips and also support your back–because when the hips are tight we tend to compensate with our back.
Get Active Rest
The relaxation technique Yoga Nidra or “yogic sleep” is the ultimate power nap. It’s a healing, meditative practice accessible to all levels of yogis. In Yoga Nidra, you’re guided to stay alert through a deeply relaxing body scan and visualization exercise. This technique is known to change brain-waves as you enter a sleep state. Yoga Nidra rest is so effective for stress, anxiety, and PTSD that the military adopted it for veterans. They reported a reduced need for medication, lower blood pressure, better sleep, and an increased sense of peace.
Grab a blanket and get comfortable! Yoga Nidra is practiced entirely lying down in savasana.
About Nicole D’Alonzo
Nicole D’Alonzo is the founder of 19 Minute Yoga, the audio-first yoga app, partner at Social Fresh, and previously global director of social media at L’Oréal. In addition to being an entrepreneur, Nicole is an international speaker, writer, and startup advisor to female founders in her mastermind. Connect with Nicole on Twitter and LinkedIn.