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Creating Calm: How Yoga And Meditation Can Help Reduce Stress

If you’re like most people, your brain is constantly active. As humans, we pretty much think from when we wake up until when we fall asleep. We ruminate on the past and worry about the future, ultimately which leads to some seriously unnecessary stress and suffering. 

Did you know that research has found the average person has more than 6,000 thoughts a day? 

Yoga and meditation can help. There’s a reason yoga’s gone mainstream. It's ability to reduce stress is amazing. Here's how it helps. 

Here's How Yoga And Meditation Can Help Reduce Stress

Yoga is part breath, part movement, part meditation, part life philosophy that deals with the causes (not just the symptoms) of stress. While the effects of yoga on the mind might take longer to feel than other stress relievers, with regular practice you’ll start to notice that you’re better able to draw the senses inward, relax your mind and reduce your stress response. 

Following are four facets of yoga practice that work to relieve stress and help increase a deeper sense of centered calm. 

1. Postures

Most people associate the practice of yoga with the postures, which in Sanskrit are known as asanas . There are several different "types" of physical yoga practices...some are slow and focus on deep stretching, while others move quickly from pose to pose and can feel more like a workout. Despite the type of yoga practiced, it invites us to stay in the present moment as we breathe and move through this physical facet.

You’re likely aware that exercise is one of the best things you can do to increase your physical and mental wellbeing. Getting regular exercise is game-changing for stress as it contributes to the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain. The blissed out feeling many experience after good workout or run, commonly referred to as “runner’s high,” is largely attributed to this cascade of mood-boosting chemicals.

The physical aspect of yoga can do the same. Not only are the therapeutic effects of yoga on stress well-documented, the physical practice of yoga requires focus on the present moment. Research shows that by remaining fixated in present moment we reduce the tendency towards mind wandering, ultimately reducing stress in the process and increasing a positive connection to ourselves and others.

2. Breathwork

Pranayama is a word to describe various breathwork techniques that are part of yoga. The word pranayama roughly translates to “control of life force,” with prana meaning “life force” and yama meaning “control or restraint.” This ancient breathing practice consists of several different breathwork techniques, some simple and others more complex.

Practicing various forms of pranayama can help to bring the mind back to the present moment, offering a perfect opportunity for increasing present moment awareness and reducing stress.

While pranayama breathwork techniques are best taught by an experienced teacher who can work with your unique needs, there are a few simple techniques that can be safely practiced in the comfort of your own home. Following is a simple practice to get you started:

Deep Breathing (Belly Breathing)

Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is commonly referred to as “belly breathing” in pranayama practice. This foundational pranayama technique involves bringing a slow, deep breath into the belly and then slowly and deeply exhaling this breath. Benefits of belly breathing include reduced stressed, increased focus, decreased depression, improved cardiovascular health, improvement in physical pain and more.

How To Practice Deep Breathing

  • Start in a comfortable position. Those new to deep breathing might find laying down on the floor when first getting started. Once you’re comfortable with the practice, you might consider sitting in a chair or cross-legged on the floor.
  • Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.
  • Inhale deeply through the nose, feeling your belly expand. You’ll notice the hand on your belly rise, while the hand on your chest shouldn’t move much at all.
  • Once you feel your belly and lungs filled with air, pause and slowly exhale through the nose, feeling the belly contract and the diaphragm relax while slightly pulling the navel back toward the spine.

Pranayama works best when practiced regularly. Aim for 5-10 minutes of deep belly breathing each day.

3. Meditation

Like pranayama, meditation involves concentration and breathing. Where pranayama is focused on specific breathwork practices that allow prana to flow more freely, meditation is more about increasing the awareness of our habitual thought patterns by focusing on the breath.

Most people assume meditation means having no thoughts and quickly give up on their practice when they find their mind won’t stop. Here's the thing, though. Thoughts are going to continue to arise, even in the most experienced of meditators. 

It can be helpful to think of meditation as an opportunity to create a deeper intimacy with your mind, instead of something you do to try to stop the mind from thinking. Breath by breath, we begin to observe our habitual thought patterns and gain deeper awareness of ourselves in each passing moment.

Thoughts will come and go, this is the nature of the mind. When we meditate we create the opportunity to allow ourselves to become the “observer” of these thoughts, ultimately increasing our awareness of ourselves and the way we react to the external and internal stimuli in our lives.

4. Relaxation

Almost all yoga classes end relaxing the body and mind in savasana, or corpse pose. The word sava means “corpse” in Sanskrit, and in this pose the body is positioned in a way to achieve total relaxation. Still. Supported. Completely surrendered. 

Savasana is the perfect opportunity to withdrawal from the outside world for a few minutes, allowing the body and mind to merge as one and experience yourself completely in the present moment. It’s in these quiet moments that yoga offers the blissful benefits of deep present moment awareness that can significantly help reduce stress.

Simple Self-Care: Using Yoga For Stress Relief

A regular yoga practice is one of the most effective and most-natural therapies for stress. When practiced together, energy is created within the body and mind that stimulates cells and relaxes physical and mental tension.

Making yoga and meditation a part of your regular self-care routine is essential if you’re looking for ways to naturally reduce stress. Our practice requires us to return to the present moment again and again, merging into the natural rhythm of the breath, relaxing the body and separating the mind from the external world.

Keep in mind that a consistent, daily yoga practice offers the best results for reducing stress. Just 20-30 minutes of daily practice can be wildly beneficial for deepening your awareness of the present moment and keeping stress levels low.