With everything that is going on in the world today, it feels like stress levels are at an all-time high. In fact, according to a recent Gallup poll, “57% of U.S. and Canadian workers reported feeling stress on a daily basis.”[i] With stress levels on the rise, people are experiencing less sleep, undesired weight gain, and a variety of mental-emotional challenges.
The good news is that yoga is ready and available to help. In 2012 the National Health Interview Survey found that 40% of yoga practitioners interviewed reported eating healthier, over 55% percent reported improved sleep, and over 85% reported reduced stress[ii]. The better news is that you can experience these benefits from the comfort of your own home with a simple daily yoga practice, or sadhana. What’s more, is that anybody can benefit from the practices of yoga without the need to be super flexible or well versed in Sanskrit.
When it comes to yoga, most people think about moving through a variety of physical poses, or asanas, such as downward dog and warrior pose. However, these poses are just one of many practices that are part of the yogic system. Creating a daily practice with the aspects of yoga that work best for you is key. The last thing we would want is to create a practice that doesn’t feel right and ends up bringing you more stress instead of less. Here are 4 tips to help you build your daily practice and start melting your stress away.
Before you create your daily practice, it’s important to find what works best for you. Is it yoga poses, breathwork, meditation, or a combination of these?When it comes to yoga poses, do you prefer a more invigorating vinyasa type flow, or a slow, gentle, restorative practice? The best way to find out is to try and see what feels good for you. There are plenty of videos and classes online or in person that you can explore to see what really works for you.In terms of meditation and mindfulness, do you prefer chanting mantras, candle gazing, an internal visualization practice, or simply watching your breath? Once again, the only way to know is to try a variety of practices and see which one makes you feel the best.As for breathwork, or pranayama as it is known in yogic terms, the same suggestions apply as above. Try a variety of styles and see which specific technique helps you feel the best.
- Start Small & Stick With It:
Change takes time, so don’t rush into changing your life overnight. Once you have found the practices that work best for you, start with a small daily practice. Even just 5 minutes a day is a great place to start and will bring you tremendous benefits. Classically, the best time to practice yoga is first thing in the morning. It helps you get your day started off in a positive, healthy way. If you can, try to do your yoga practice before you get into your daily tasks like checking emails or getting ready for work. If first thing in the morning doesn’t work for you, then anytime you can squeeze in your practice is better than no practice. If you can, practicing in the same space, at the same time every day is ideal. This will help you build a practice that becomes a habit. It’s important to stick with it. Results may not be immediate, so don’t give up if you aren’t noticing any major changes at first. It can take time for the body and mind to shift, so keep going. When your daily practice has become part of your routine, you can start to add to it and extend how long your practice for, but until then start small and really stick with it.
One of the greatest gifts that yoga can offer people is the ability to connect with the breath. For most people breathing is something that just happens. Yogis on the other hand learn to harness the power of the breath and in doing so gain a myriad of positive benefits. The primary breathing technique used in yoga is known as deep belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing. Research has shown that this type of breathing can increase oxygen levels, slow the heart rate, and stabilize blood pressure[iii]. In other words, deep yogic breathing can help shut of the “fight or flight” stress response and help shift us into a more relaxed state of being. Learning to breath in this way is a simple, yet powerful yogic practice. The best part about it is that you can practice this anywhere, whenever you need it. Here is a quick and easy way to give it a try:
- Sit or lie down so that your spine is straight and comfortable.
- Place the palm of one hand on your chest center, and the other one just above your belly button.
- Breathe in through your nose and imagine sending the breath all the way down into your belly. You should feel your stomach expand gently. Your chest should remain mostly still.
- Exhale through your nose and feel your bellybutton moving toward your spine as you gently “squeeze” the air out of your abdomen.
Once you are comfortable with this technique, you can do it without needing to place your hands on your belly and chest. This is also the foundational practice for other pranayama techniques such as alternate nostril breathing, box breathing, and more. Once you have the yogic breath figure out, you can start to explore other techniques and see what feels best for you.
- Bookend Your Day with Yoga:
To really make the most of the stress melting powers of yoga, one of the best things you can do is start and end your day with it. Starting your day with yoga can help set you up for success and bring your body into a relaxed, stress free state of being first thing in the morning. Ending your day with yoga can help reset your system back into a relaxed state and help you move into a healthy rejuvenating sleep. After time, your body will start to attune to this cycle of stress relief and be better able to self-regulate and maintain lower levels of stress throughout the day. As previously mentioned, even just a few minutes in the morning and evening can bring powerful changes. It is also important to note that your morning and evening practices don’t have to be the same. You may prefer some yoga postures and breathwork in the morning to get you moving, and a simple meditation in the evening to settle down. Or perhaps a fast-paced flow when you wake up and a gentle practice before bed. Once again, it is important to find what works best for you and then go with it.
By incorporating these tips anyone can benefit from the stress relieving powers of yoga. So breathe deep, start exploring, and see what yoga can do for you.