Just Breathe: Lower Stress with Yoga
Last Updated: Mar. 2, 2015
By: Taira Jordan
From getting the kids to school on time to the rigors of the work week, we all have things in our lives that cause us to feel stressed. With stress, your heart rate increases and you feel a heightened sense of alertness, which can be beneficial in some situations, but nevertheless is taxing on your body. Practicing yoga in the morning or evening is a great way to alleviate stress as yoga promotes relaxation, the opposite of stress. Incorporating stretching exercises and controlled breathing, yoga lets you focus on your mind and body to help you relax.
Great for all ages and athletic abilities, yoga is an exercise that is not meant to be competitive. When doing yoga, you should do poses that make you feel challenged but not overwhelmed. More than just stretching, yoga poses increase your strength and flexibility and with a range of poses, there are exercises for every fitness level. In addition to yoga poses, controlled breathing is important for stress management. By concentrating on your breathing with deep, timed breaths, yoga helps you let go of external thoughts and anxieties so your body can relax.
A simple, relaxing yoga pose calls for you to lie flat on your back on a yoga mat with your eyes closed and your arms down at your sides. Draw air in and think about how your lungs expand and how the air feels in your chest. After a few moments, slowly release your breath and concentrate on the air leaving your chest. Repeat this controlled breathing for a few minutes. This rudimentary exercise works by focusing your mind on your breathing rather than whatever is causing you stress.
Instead of waiting until you feel overwhelmed to do yoga, develop a regular routine. As yoga can be practiced almost anywhere, your routine can be as simple as doing calming exercises to clear your mind of stress before going to bed. Developing a yoga habit has many health benefits. In addition to reducing stress and anxiety, yoga helps to improve your mood and sense of well-being. It can also help alleviate chronic conditions such as depression, pain, anxiety and insomnia.
Yoga can be practiced at home, outdoors or at a yoga studio and requires a minimum amount of gear. Having the following items will let you get the most out of your yoga workout:
- Clothing that is comfortable and breathable is best for yoga. Your shirt or top should be fitted so that it does not move too much as you go through various exercises. While any comfortable pants or shorts can be worn, avoid materials such as super slick Lycra that may cause you to slip.
- Most yogis practice barefoot but non-slip yoga socks can be worn for better grip.
- A yoga mat is recommended to create traction for your hands and feet so they do not slip, especially when they get sweaty. Yoga mats also provide cushioning when practicing on a hard floor.
- As your neck, shoulders and back often carry the most stress, a foam or massage roller helps to release built-up tension by improving circulation. Foam rollers are resistance tools that can be used to enhance your workout.
- Fitness or exercise balls help to develop a strong and healthy core. Like foam rollers, an exercise ball will boost your workout.
- Props such as yoga straps and blocks can assist in improving your alignment and form. You can also use yoga straps to do more difficult stretch exercises that you cannot do on your own.