Yoga, it seems, was built to relieve stress. So how does yoga reduce stress? Well, yoga does this in many ways. One way is using the yoga poses to help relieve stress. One by-product of stress is physical tension. So often, you hear people complain about neck and shoulder pain or tension, due to how stressed out they are. Certainly, there is no rule that stress related tension is restricted to just the neck and shoulders. If we distributed and stored stress-related tension evenly throughout our bodies, there would probably be more in the hips and hamstrings, calf muscles and quadriceps, as these are the biggest places in the body. So, yoga poses to relieve stress or stress-related tension would target the areas that are holding the most tension. Also, considering that there is no rule that we store tension in any one place but most likely it goes all over the place, it’s nice to have a well-rounded yoga routine that touches all places or as many places as possible, with an emphasis on the largest places and the places one is feeling the most tension. Stretching is basically the opposite of tension, and if done properly, it has the opposite effect. Tension can be explained as a constriction of tissue, reducing range of motion and even creating soreness. Stretching is the lengthening and releasing of tissue, reducing and even eradicating the tension. The body is always on a mission to maintain homeostasis of balance and wellness, and a large player in that is circulation. Circulation flushes in nutrients and flushes out toxins, creating an optimal environment for regeneration. Stretching also facilitates circulation through the stimulation of the region.
I have found the yoga poses to relieve stress or the ones that generally leave me feeling most stress-free are forward bends that really thoroughly stretch the hamstrings. Legs straight out in front, and also spread legs, which help access the pelvic floor and loads of tissues in the groin, loin and upper inner legs. Shoulder and hip stretches, too. Reclining spinal twists (lying on one’s back and letting the bent knees fall to either side) seem to also help nicely. Yet the tension could be lurking anywhere, so a balanced, well-rounded sequence is always most optimal.
Yet all this is superficial without addressing the mindstate. Most of this tension is coming from our minds; how our mind responds to its environment as well as the types of thoughts we have.
So then the question becomes, “how to reduce mental stress through yoga?“
This is where meditation comes into play. Certainly we can bring the qualities of meditation into the yoga poses, so the poses become meditation in action. Actually, if our yoga practice is not a meditation, it is not a yoga practice.
The main objective of meditation and yoga is awareness, because as we become more aware, we can notice our thoughts and responses, and then we have a choice as to whether we want to propagate and facilitate the types of thoughts and responses. This choice allows us to steer ourselves in a benevolent direction.
To learn more on how yoga can help you, check out our article, “What Are the Benefits of Power Yoga?”