Take your pick: A tough day at work; the onset of the holiday season; a broken pipe in the upstairs bathroom. All of these things, plus any number of other situations, more can cause superb amounts of stress, making life less enjoyable and more full of hair-tugging headaches.
But if you're a yogi, you have an advantage: You can use your yoga practice to help alleviate some of that stress and become calm even in the face of the most overwhelming challenges.
Here are five ways you can use yoga to de-stress and decompress:
Live in the Moment
Practicing yoga means living and being in the moment. Don't worry about what happened before class or what you're going to do after the last pose. Instead, take the time to focus only on what's going on inside your body in that moment: How are you feeling? What parts of your body hurt, feel warm, feel cold? How does the air around you feel?
When you walk into class, imagine taking all of your worries and troubles and putting them in a jar. Put that jar next to your shoes and bag—it will still be there when you get out. But just like high heels and cell phones, outside troubles can make yoga uncomfortable and difficult, so leave all your extra baggage at the door.
Inhabit Your Body
Stress can make you feel disconnected from your body. Let yoga be a time to reflect attention back inside, to regain focus on your physical presence. Imagine living and breathing from the center of your chest, near your heart and move your focus inward like you would move into a new apartment. Really take the time to feel and experience all that is going on inside of your body: all the aches, pains, tight spots, loose spots, open pores and knots.
By reconnecting to your body, you will also loosen up your heart and mind. Physical release leads to mental release. Even if you can't completely overcome your feelings, you can prevent them from invading your body and keep things cool, calm, and under control.
Fifty-four percent of Americans are concerned about the level of stress in their everyday lives. (APA Survey 2004)
Direct Your Breath
Once you've gone through your body and discovered all the little spots that may need your attention, begin the healing process. Pamper them with soothing imagery!
Direct your inhales and exhales to the trouble spots, imagining them as little fires and your breath as a running stream. Visualize putting out the fires and flooding them with cool water. The clean air will help relax the muscles and act as a massage for your aches and pains (but without the hundred dollar price tag!).
Don't Be Afraid to Lie Back
Remember that your yoga class is your yoga class. If you feel like you need to take a moment to lie back in Corpse Pose to meditate or simply refocus, do it. Knowing your body means listening to the messages it sends throughout your practice.
If you're up to it, talk to your instructor before class about your stressful state. She/he will be able to recommend some poses to keep you relaxed or even what sequences are best for you to sit out and supplement with visualization. Never underestimate the understanding of your teacher in tailoring class to fit your needs.
Studies have shown that regular meditation can increase the size of your brain in the areas that regulate emotion.
Focus on What You're Doing Right
Even if you try your best to leave your worries in a jar by the shoe cubby, your stressful state of mind may carry over to your yoga practice. It often takes shape as a negative voice that whispers in your ear, “You're awful at this pose!” “Why don't you just go home?” “What a waste.”
Don't ignore this voice. Instead, counter every negative thought with a positive one: “I've come a long way in this asana!” “Being in class for even half an hour makes my day.” “Yoga has been one of the most valuable learning experiences of my life.” This way, you learn to proactively confront the negative energy with a realistic, but encouraging attitude.
The natural, positive energy found in the practice of yoga can be a great place to find your own optimism. Applying that kind of attitude to everyday life can help you cope with stress in a constructive, healthy way.
Don't Give Up!
So while the pipe may still be broken after class and work will always have its challenges, if you utilize these tips to alleviate stress and inner tension in your yoga practice, you'll be able to face any difficulty with a calm and resolute spirit.