Stress is a major problem in the challenging, fast-paced and fast-changing times in which we live. Reducing stress will improve your mood, increase your energy, uplift your spirit and enable you to just feel good – this overview will show you how yoga and meditation can help you to reduce your stress levels and achieve a greater sense of well being.
It is important that we have the capacity to cope efficiently with stress. There are innumerable techniques for this and the prescription for each person is as individual as the stress factor itself – the important point is finding the technique that works for you.
Although stress is not a disease, it is a co-factor in nearly all disease and therefore, relaxation, inner calm and a positive attitude are co-factors in optimal health. Too much stress suppresses the immune system, damages the heart and the circulatory system, has a detrimental effect on the metabolism, produces insomnia, and depletes the body of vital nutrients. It also promotes rapid ageing, weight gain and a host of other stress related ailments – more than 90% of all medical visits are due to stress-related health problems.
We have the choice to stress, or not to stress.
Although stress can seem beyond our control, we do have the power to manage it. Our stress levels are determined by the choices we make. Do we choose to allow ourselves to be controlled by stress or do we choose to control the stress before it controls us?
There are many and varied effective techniques to control stress, including:
- Reflex therapy
- Biophysical healing
- Energy healing
- Conscious breathing
- Yogic breathing
- Tái chi
- Walking meditation
- Sound therapy
- Art therapy
- Laughing therapy
- EFT or tapping
- Creative visualization
The list is endless but whichever technique is applied, for it to truly be effective, it must produce the relaxation response.
The relaxation response, as defined by Dr. Herbert Benson in his book, The Relaxation Response, is a physiological response in the body that combats the stress response. This stress response is your personal ability to encourage your body to release chemicals and brain signals that make your muscles and organs slow down and increase blood flow to the brain.
The relaxation response creates the opposite reaction to the fight, flight or freeze response that activates the sympathetic nervous system. It allows the parasympathetic nervous system to activate, resulting in lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and it is helpful in reducing any health disorder that is caused, or exacerbated, by chronic stress, such as hypertension, gastrointestinal disorders, anxiety attacks, insomnia and more.
How Yoga and Meditation help to combat stress
Health is a delicate state of balance. Yoga, breath and meditation are vitally important, time-tested and clinically proven techniques for controlling stress.
Yoga: Produces better balance on a physical level through the practice of the postures or asanas.
Breath: Promotes a better balance in mind and energy levels from the balancing of inhalation and exhalation and control over the breath.
Meditation: Helps to balance the mind by encouraging inner peace and calm and elimination of separation or duality enjoyed through the meditation techniques.
Conscious breath or yogic breath signifies mastering the art of breathing and it is a crucial step towards self-healing and survival. Pranayama, which is the yogic name for conscious breath, is beneficial in treating a wide range of stress related disorders. Pranayama improves vitality, energy and all the autonomic functions of the body. It reduces the signs of oxidative stress, lowers blood pressure, regulates the nervous system and can assist in attaining a steady mind, strong willpower, clear judgement and increased intuition. Every single cell and every cellular action requires a molecule of oxygen to perform – quality oxygen allows us to perform optimally and regular pranayama practice improves the quality of life; it can extend life and enhance one’s perception of life.
The history of Yoga and meditation for stress reduction
Yoga is one of the oldest known systems of health practiced in the World today, dating back in the Vedas to many thousands of years ago. It is considered one of the safest, quickest and most efficient ways of reducing stress, anxiety and nervous tension to regain health and wellbeing. Yoga is not a simple fashion or mode soon to be replaced by another; it has withheld the test of time and will continue to do so. Yoga can be practiced by anyone, irrespective of age, health, life circumstances or religion and, aside from reducing stress, it has been proven to lower blood pressure, regulate heart rate, and even decelerate the aging process. Yoga is the integration of physical, mental and spiritual energies that enhance health and wellbeing.
As the world becomes more intrusive it is increasingly imperative to find the quiet place within, through introspection, silence and serenity. A place of meditation where we become the non-judgmental observer and can extricate ourselves from the drama of our lives being played out upon the world stage. Meditation can be considered the ‘yoga of the mind’. It involves the stilling of the rational, reasoning dualistic egotistical mind to allow the neutral mind to focus awareness on inner reality beyond intellectual concepts. Yoga without meditation is like the cake without the icing.
Further benefits of mediation
There are many benefits that meditation can offer:
- Allows us to find a place of deep inner calm
- Activates the parasympathetic nervous system
- Slows the metabolism
- Slows the heart rate
- Slows the breath
- improves the respiratory and circulatory systems
- Decreases body temperature
- Boosts the autoimmune system
- Regulates the glandular system
How many people are on medical prescriptions for stress, anxiety, insomnia and depression? Many take several different prescriptions simultaneously which can conflict and counteract each other. Meditation has been proven to lower stress, anxiety and depression, so why medicate, when you can meditate?
I believe that in these incredible times in which we are living, it is not only the choice but the obligation of every conscious and responsible person to spend, at the very least, a few moments a day meditating. The best times are at sunrise, before beginning the day and at sunset or before going to sleep. In a chaotic world, the only thing we can really change is our self. We can hope to create a peaceful world out of peaceful people, but if we are allowing personal stress to contribute to global stress, then we are part of the problem and not part of the solution. Science has proven that our energy is contagious and affects not only our own stress levels, but the levels of stress in the environment around us. The Dalai Lama has said that if we taught school children to meditate, war would be eliminated in just one generation. If we allow ourselves to become stressed out and full of fear just by listening to the news before we leave for work in the morning, what chance de we have of having a good and positive day, or of contributing to peace for ourselves, peace for our families and peace for our world?
We can be the screenwriter for the life we live. We can choose our thoughts and learn that we are not the thoughts in our head. We cannot always change external events, but we can change our focus and create a positive viewpoint that will contribute to our wellbeing. We can transform stress into motivation to create positive change in our life and in the world around us.
Keep your eyes open for part two of our feature on how to combat stress through changes to your food and diet – coming next week.
Written by Jeanne Lurie
About the author
Jeanne has been practicing and teaching yoga and meditation for almost 50 years. Her specialty and her passion is Kundalini yoga better known as the yoga of consciousness. As an Ayurveda Yoga Therapist she is further able to assist her students and her clients in transformation to wellness and well being by finding the yoga, nutrition and massage for their type or Dosha. Jeanne also offers stress management consulting based on her training as a masseur, naturopath, nutritionist, stress management consultant and her life long practice of living a healthy life with healthy habits. She also offers the Healthy Woman – Healthy World program for empowering women.