Here is the dictionary definition of stress: (n) “pressure or tension exerted on a material object.”
The first thing that usually comes to mind when we hear the word ‘stress’ is that it is something bad. Stress bad, yoga good, right? Instead, for a moment, let’s understand stress simply for what it is – pressure, tension, a material, physical, physiological reaction to outside factors. The brain signals to the body to release chemicals that activate the sympathetic nervous system, creating an inflammatory response that brings us into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Our heart rate, respiratory rate, blood sugar levels and blood pressure all increase. Our blood vessels and muscles constrict. We go on high alert.
A little bit of stress can motivate us to finish a task, meet a deadline, study for final exams, escape a wild tiger. But when we carry stress in our bodies for days on end, weeks, a lifetime, it settles into our very tissues, organs, and even DNA. It is a known fact that chronic stress leads to illness.
Yoga, and especially a restorative and/or meditative practice, gives us time and space to inquire, within our own bodies, about where and how we hold stress, where and why we might literally be encountering resistance in our lives. There are the usual trouble spots – the neck, the jaw, those dang knots under the shoulder blades – and then there are other places – hamstrings, hips, low back, solar plexus. Through asana and pranyam, we can use the breath to explore our inner landscapes, attending to and nourishing the areas of the body where we experience stress, letting go of patterns that no longer serve us, moving away from the grips of the past.
Your greatest teacher is often your own body. Stress is an inevitable part of life, but how you respond to it, what you choose to learn from it, is where the practice of yoga can be an incredibly powerful tool.
Amara is offering a complimentary (free!) event for members on May 9th, 6:00-7:30 pm, on the topic of using yoga for stress relief. We will practice asana, restorative poses, pranyama, and guided meditation. This class is appropriate for all levels. Space will be limited to 25 students.