Ruth from Yogaru put together these stress-relieving yoga sequences for our first print edition. She is also teaching these particular sequences at her current classes at Moons Yoga Loft in Blackrock in Dublin. Today we’re sharing the full article from our first issue here, along with the sequences. Perhaps you might like to give them a try at home today?
Remember, you should never feel any pain during yoga. Just do what feels good.
Yoga for stress relief
The very word ‘stress’ has us quaking in our boots – even the thought of being stressed has become a great cause of stress itself! Stress, or the fight, flight or freeze response, is caused by hormones which are triggered by the sympathetic nervous system. This response raises our heart rate and circulates blood to our external limbs, ready for action. When these stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) are in overdrive, the body is too busy to make the other hormones required for bodily functions – digestion, excretion, reproduction, endocrine and immune systems.
Some level of stress is perfectly normal and all part of life. It helps you rise to the challenge, stay focused and drives productivity. The problem emerges when chronic or long-term stress keeps you in this heightened state of alert, and it drifts towards the familiar feeling of being stretched beyond your limits and feeling overwhelmed. You can feel yourself at the edge of your tipping point but you don’t know what to do about it!
How does yoga reduce stress?
One of the main reasons that brings people to the practice of yoga is stress management. Yoga reduces stress by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system through breath awareness; slow mindful movement, and the deep effect each specific pose has on the body and mind. This rest, digest and restore response is caused by hormones which are triggered by the parasympathetic nervous system. In this state blood pressure and heart rate decrease; circulation increases; and hormone production balances for optimal bodily functions.
Exploring the sequence
Breath awareness is what differentiates yoga from other activities. Conscious breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system through the cerebral cortex and the vagus nerve. When we link the breath with movement in our practice it slows the breath down – bringing more oxygen to your whole body and establishes a deep and constant breath. Moving slow and mindfully builds body awareness and starts to peel away the layers of clutter in the mind. Gradually you start to feel a deep sense of calm and relaxation.
As you practice these sequences, choose a flow to suit your need for that particular day. What will support you in the morning will be very different from what you need in the evening. You can also mix the sequences – simply pick a few of the poses from the different sequences and move slowly through them for about 10 minutes. As you become more in tune with your home practice, you will instinctively know what poses will serve you best. Take as many child’s pose breaks as you need – either with your arms reaching forward or your arms reaching back towards your feet. Next is a synopsis of how the following stress-reducing sequences work to calm the nervous system with lots of additional benefits.
Backbends are energising – they aid digestion; ease symptoms of asthma; ease anxiety, stress and tension; ease constipation; ease symptoms of depression; ease fatigue; boost the immune system; increase lung capacity; and help relieve chronic pain. The digestive system (enteric nervous system) produces 95% of the serotonin (the happy hormone) of the body and 80% of the immune system. Backbends stretch and stimulate the digestive system and trigger serotonin and immune system production.
Forward bends are very grounding and relaxing – they aid digestion; balance emotions; ease symptoms of asthma; ease anxiety, stress and tension; ease constipation; ease symptoms of depression, ease fatigue; ease headaches, ease insomnia, reduce blood pressure and are deeply relaxing and calming. Our natural position for self soothing is fetal position. In fetal position the feet, knees, hips and back are flexed – similar to forward folds – which help to bring us to into the parasympathetic nervous system.
Twists are warming and energising – they aid detoxification; balance the nervous system; ease anxiety, stress and tension; ease asthma; ease constipation; ease symptoms of depression; ease fatigue; increase circulation; boost the immune system and increase lung capacity. Oxygen is the fuel for every cell of the body. In a twist position the organs in the trunk of the body are compressed – on releasing the twist, fresh oxygenated blood floods all the organs, fueling optimum functionality.
Hip openers release physical and emotional tension – they aid detox; balance emotions; ease anxiety, stress and tension; ease constipation; ease depression; ease insomnia; increase circulation; and are deeply relaxing and calming. One of the biggest hip flexor muscles called the psoas connects the upper and lower body and is strongly linked to the fight or flight response. When this muscle is tight it triggers the stress hormone cortisol. Hip openers release this tension and relieve physical and emotional tension in the safe environment of your yoga mat.
Stress relief tips
- Make yoga and meditation part of your self-care daily routine. If you can’t manage a whole sequence, pick a few stress-reducing yoga poses, to suit your energy levels, and practice for 10 minutes followed by 5 minutes of savasana or seated meditation.
- Keep a note of your methods of relaxation and stress relief. Often when you’re in the throws of a stressful period you won’t be able to work out what helped you the last time you felt this way.
- Make putting time aside for yourself to relax a priority. Take an Epsom and lavender bath and set a timer for 15-20 minutes of complete relaxation.
- Try to get out into nature every day, looking into the horizon is known to be incredibly calming and therapeutic.
- Have a ‘go to’ breathing method that works for you to use in challenging situations. It can be as simple as placing your hand on your belly, taking 5 slow deep breaths and feeling the breath expand your belly.
By Ruth Delahunty. For more information about Ruth, visit our Contributors page.