How Yoga Helps When Life Gets Messy
We all have stress. Stress can negatively affect our bodies and minds, especially chronic stress. We all cope with stress differently and how we manage our stress can determine our quality of life. What we learn on our yoga mat can help us off the mat when life gets chaotic. The practice of yoga is much more than mastering pretty poses. The real practice of yoga starts when the class ends and you begin to apply the lessons off the mat in the real world.
Yoga is a practice that cultivates self-awareness. “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Aristotle. Yoga challenges us to become more mentally aware of our thoughts and the power of the mind. Becoming aware and acknowledging our triggers and stress buttons in our lives is a key part of dealing with them. We all have triggers and worries and while we all are different, some of them may include, finances, personal health, the health of a loved one, caring for a loved one, family relationships or even arguing with your loved ones. If I am not aware of it, one argument in the morning can put me in a crappy mood for the whole day. It’s time, to be honest with yourself. What are your triggers? What sets you off and gets your blood boiling? Get to know your triggers, acknowledge them and own them. Then be on the look-out when they arrive and challenge yourself to respond differently. Our stressors don’t always change but how we react is something we can control.
The physical practice of yoga teaches us to tune into our bodies. Physically we start to become more aware of how our body moves and where we hold tension in our bodies. Listen to your body, it’s your best teacher, and know that the needs of the human body are constantly changing. Sometimes your body is craving an energetic practice and other times you may need a slower and more soothing yoga practice. Become aware of physical triggers. Pain, hunger, fatigue and hormones are just a few. I am not my best person when I am fatigued. It’s the truth and most of us are not. Fatigue, whether it is occasional or chronic, can really affect how we handle ourselves and interact with others. Acknowledge it and get some rest. Make time for real relaxation. It’s not an indulgence. It’s a necessity for our physical and mental health. Be aware of your physical triggers, step back and practice the pause. Just as we pause between poses on the mat, practice the pause in life. Pause before you react.
Slow Down. Sometimes less is more. When we are practicing on our mat we are encouraged to move mindfully and slow down. Even a fast- paced yoga class has Savasana or relaxation at the end which reminds us of the beauty of just being and not doing. Often when we are stressed we hurry and move too fast. Rushing usually just adds to our stress level. Life is enjoyed more when we slow down enough to be fully present. It’s not easy. It can be challenging to slow down when you are juggling responsibilities like school, a career, and family life. But make it a priority to slow down and smell the roses. Life’s beauty is often found in the little things that we frequently miss when we are rushing.
Breathe. It’s all about the breath. If you are focusing on your breath you are doing yoga. We usually don’t even give our breath any thought. Our intelligent body just does this instinctively. It is the first thing we did when we were born and when we take our last breath we will leave this world. Our breath is one of our most powerful tools to link the body and mind. Mindful breathing has so many benefits on and off the mat. Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, can soothe, calm, center, relax or even energize the mind and body. Use your breath! You can practice mindful breathing anywhere.
One of my favorite breathing exercises, when I am feeling anxious or stressed, is Diaphragmatic or Belly Breathing. Close your eyes. Rest your hands on your belly. Notice any tightness or tension you may have in your belly area. Breathe through your nose and make the breath big. As you inhale fill your belly with breath as if you are inflating a balloon. As you exhale through the nose, pull the belly in and notice how the belly contracts just as a balloon would deflate. Do this for a few minutes and notice the effects on your body and mind.
The physical practice is just the beginning. The feeling of calm and clarity after yoga class can help to reduce our stress levels. However, the real practice begins when we take that inner peace with us as we move off the mat into our messy, beautiful lives.
Here are some of my favorite mantras that I repeat to myself regularly to help manage stress:
- Be mindful of your thoughts and your actions.
- Listen to your body, it’s telling you something.
- Slow Down. Be Present.
- Breathe. A lot. Just Breathe.