How yoga and meditation help us manage stress in today’s environment An introduction to pranayama and asana - By Huda Serhan
Modern life in today’s environment usually means that we are busy doing multiple things at a time. We are working, maintaining a social life, keeping up with current affairs and trends, raising families, and if you enjoy a bit of entertainment like I do, you are probably eagerly awaiting for that new Beyonce drop.
While we glamourize being busy, it does take a toll on our body, mind and soul. A stressful situation can trigger a cascade of stress hormones, making the heart pound, the breath heavy, the muscles tense, offering you a rainfall of sweat. This is our “fight or flight” response taking over as our survival mechanism.
Stress can result from non-life threatening situations. We do not need to be faced with danger for us to trigger stress hormones. Traffic jams, work pressures and family issues may trigger stress hormones just as bad. It is important that we learn how to manage stress in our day to day lives.
Meditation and yoga have been instrumental in equipping us with some of the tools we need today to survive modern day pressures. Knowing how to pay attention to our breath, our body movements and how we feel emotionally can tremendously elevate pressures and help us perform in a more aware and productive manner.
Recent research conducted in the US on 52 women with depression and anxiety has shown that their symptoms decreased dramatically after 12 sessions of hatha yoga.
300 million people do yoga all over the world.
But how does yoga actually work? Yoga postures (asanas), consisting of stretching, lengthening, and muscle balancing, work towards relieving the physical discomforts induced by anxiety. Breath work (pranayama), whether cooling or energizing, helps alleviate stress, keeping us mindful and aware of the present moment.
You do not have to be spiritual or an athlete to do yoga. Yoga is for everyone no matter the belief or age.
Pranayama is the control of Breath. "Prana" is Breath or vital energy in the body. Prana represents the pranic energy responsible for life or life force, and "ayama" means control.
Here are a few Pranayama techniques that help us balance our breath and keep us calm:
Ujjayi breath Ujjayi breathing is a technique that allows us to calm our mind by focusing on our breath.
How to practise Ujjayi Breath:
● Seal the lips and start to breath in and out through your nose.
● Take an inhalation through the nose that is slightly deeper than normal. Exhale slowly through the nose while constricting the muscles in the back of your throat. Make an ocean sound as you exhale and feel it in the throat.
Nadi Shodhana Nadi Shodhana, or “alternate nostril breathing,” is a simple yet powerful technique that settles the mind, body, and emotions.
How to practise Nadi Shodhana
1. Take a comfortable position, making sure the spine is straight and heart open. 2. Relax the left palm comfortably into your lap. With the right hand, bring your index finger and middle finger to rest between the eyebrows, lightly using them as an anchor. 3. Close the eyes and take a deep breath in and out through your nose. 4. Close the right nostril with the right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril
slowly for 4 counts. 5. Close the left nostril with the ring finger so both nostrils are held closed. Hold
for 6 counts. 6. Open the right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side for
8 counts. 7. Repeat on the other side and maintain the practice for at least 5 minutes,
allowing the mind to follow the inhales and exhales.
Belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, can help lower stress levels, reduce blood pressure, and regulate other important bodily processes.
How to practise Belly Breathing
1. Lie flat on the floor, or any comfortable flat surface, relaxing the shoulders 2. Put a hand on the chest and a hand on the stomach 3. Breathe in through the nose feeling the air moving through the nostrils into
the abdomen, feeling the belly rise 4. Exhaling, feeling the belly flatten 5. Practise belly breathing for at least 5 minutes
Asana is a Sanskrit term which is often translated as “posture” or “pose.” It is not difficult to do your asana practise at home. A perfect way to start is the Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations). Breathing is an instrumental part of this 12 yoga poses. Some of the benefits that Surya Namaskar offer are:
● Strengthens the body
● Relaxes the mind
● Helps build mental focus
● Helps burn excess fat
● Improves muscle tone
● Improves functions of internal organs
● Helps cope with insomnia
Here is a diagram to help you understand how to practice your Surya Namaskar
It is with no doubt that movement and breath help calm us and enable us to better manage our stress. With regular practice, you will start feeling that the pressures of our modern days are manageable and lighter than we think.