Stress may be the single largest hindrance to our health and overall happiness. A whopping 8 out of 10 Americans say they feel stressed on a daily basis, and anxiety, the most common mental illness in the United States, afflicts 40 million adults, or almost 20% of the population.
Stress and anxiety are undoubtedly prevalent in our nonstop, overly-scheduled world, but what can we do about it?
Stressful incidents are unavoidable, but we can manage our response to stress and how we view negative events. From breathing to exercise to mindfulness, we can help our body regulate the inevitable stressors in life.
The simple act of slowing down the breath can automatically reduce levels of stress in the body. When you breathe slowly and deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down. The brain then orders the body to relax, decreasing the heart rate and blood pressure and reducing cortisol (stress) levels.
You can look up breathing exercises online, like these from the University of Michigan, or you can learn and practice various breathing techniques in any of Yogaja's yoga classes.
When stress affects the mind, the rest of the body feels the negative impact. Tension headaches, fatigue, stomach pains--these are all common physical side effects of tension.
Conversely, if your body feels better through exercise, so will your mind. The mind/body connection is a real thing--not just something your yoga teacher likes to ramble on about. Physical activity produces a chemical reaction called endorphins — or the “feel good” chemicals in your body — and improves the ability to sleep, both of which reduce stress.
Research shows again and again that exercise decreases tension, elevates mood, improves sleep, and enhances self-esteem. Even just 5 minutes of exercise can deliver calming effects.
So what are you waiting for? Sign up now for that yoga class you’ve been wanting to try!
Meditation has been getting a lot of hype lately--and for good reason. Meditation comes in many forms, from guided meditation to mantra meditation to yoga, and they all have numerous benefits, including:
Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
Building skills to manage stress
Focusing on the present moment
Reducing negative emotions
Increasing patience and tolerance
On top of that, research suggests that meditation may help people manage symptoms of conditions such as:
High blood pressure
Irritable bowel syndrome
Yoga is a form of moving meditation, and Yogaja teachers make time for stillness and meditation at the end of each class during final relaxation (savasana). Yogaja’s Movement & Meditation class dives a bit deeper into meditation, leaving 20 minutes at the end of each class for guided meditation.
If you are a Yogaja unlimited monthly member, the Flowt studio on the first floor is open for meditation Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. when class is not in session, which is most of the time. Come in and float in an aerial hammock or prop yourself up with bolsters while you quiet the body and mind.
Margaret studied with renowned experts on meditation at The Chopra Center and plans to offer workshops on mindfulness and meditation in 2019. Stay tuned!
When you’re stressed, you can’t sleep, and when you don’t sleep, you become more tense. It’s a vicious cycle.
So how do you break the cycle? All of the above techniques--exercise, meditation, and breathing--can help decrease stress and improve sleep.
If you aren’t sleeping soundly for at least 7-9 hours each night, then you aren’t getting the recommended amount of sleep. Exercise may be the last thing you want to do when you’re exhausted, but it’s a proven way to aid sleep. Why not register for a yoga class, combining exercise with breathing and meditation, to reduce stress and improve sleep?
Certain foods can even help decrease your levels of stress. There is a reason we crave chocolate when we’re overwhelmed; dark chocolate contains antioxidants that can help lower stress hormones in the body. The process of drinking a cup of hot tea also has calming effects.
Less obvious stress-reducing foods include fatty fish, avocado, oranges, spinach, raw veggies, and nuts.
Ayurveda offers yoga practitioners a comprehensive way to approach nutrition based on your individual dosha, or your body/personality type. Not only does Ayurveda offer a comprehensive guide to eating, but it gives us insight into when our bodies are out of balance and what foods/drinks can help bring us back into balance.
James Tennant will be holding an in-depth Ayurveda workshop at Yogaja Downtown the weekend of January 25th. Register here!
6. TIME FOR YOURSELF:
Last but not least, it’s important to clear your schedule for some “me time.” Whether that means reading a book, going for a run, or soaking in the bath, doing something you love is important to your overall mental health. It can be hard to step away from jobs and families for some “selfish” time, but in reality, you are creating space for yourself to be the best employee/parent/partner you can be.