By Dr Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
In this stimulating age of never-ending to-do lists, smart-phones vibrating with constant notifications, constant reminders of ever-evolving business, and relationship demands, who among us is not stressed out? Who has time to get groceries after work, creatively work around the kids’ schedules, and juggle project priorities with other tasks at work without feeling anxious and tense? Yoga, was designed to slow you down and put you in touch with your inner self, which makes it the perfect mind and body health maintenance system for relieving stress, rather than creating it.
Yoga’s focus on breathing, especially deep abdominal breathing techniques, is a well-known way to reduce stress levels. Modern science has established that taking short and shallow breaths, which is how the average person breathes throughout the day, can lead to depleted carbon dioxide levels in the body and can cause mental agitation. Many people do not realize that lower levels of carbon dioxide levels can cause less oxygenation of tissue, because carbon dioxide is a major factor in transporting oxygen from the blood to the brain and the entire body. This is why strong emotions like anger or fear, which lead to rapid breathing often create a more frenzied level of thinking and inability to focus.
Yoga teaches its practitioners to breathe deeply, using techniques to maximize the flow of oxygen into the lungs. This has a calming effect on the brain, which is able to slow down its information processing and avoid an overload of the senses. The more a Yoga student practices, the better he or she will be at deep breathing techniques that lead to a relaxed state of body.
Although some schools of Yoga in the west emphasize the physical practice, many forms of Yoga exercise the mind as well as the body. Meditation is a concentrated effort for slowing the mind and body down, by practicing mantra, japa, mindfulness or deep breathing to center one’s ability to focus, while blocking out audio or visual input. Much like abdominal breathing, meditation has a relaxing effect on a person’s mind and body.
Yoga Pose Series
A typical Hatha Yoga session begins with a centering designed to collect one’s thoughts, which is followed by a pose (asana) series designed to warm up the body’s muscles and joints. These are usually a little more fast-paced and strenuous than the poses that come at the end of a Yoga class, which are aimed at slowing the body down to enable Yoga practitioners to access a more relaxed state of mind and body. Poses like Shavasana (the corpse pose) should enable practitioners to rest active minds and bodies, while Yoga practitioners shed the causes of physical and emotional stress. As a result, Yoga is a practice that can help ease stress overload and improve mental health.
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