Yoga for Stress Management

Yoga is a great tool for stress management no matter what.  However, there are many different styles of yoga and a great variety of approaches. Which ones work best?

There are really two fundamentally different approaches to practicing yoga.  The “pure physical approach” is what most people think of when the word yoga comes to mind.  It involves a routine of yoga postures practiced either fast or slow with a focus on the what to do with your body in each, and stretching to a maximum stretch which is held for anything from a few seconds to a few minutes. This will generally get your blood flowing, heart beating, and breath deepening.  It will be physically good for you and will help relieve stress.

The other approach is the “mind-body” approach to yoga.  Here the physical part of the practice is primarily a tool for creating an inner experience.  This experience includes both a meditative and open ended focus of your awareness. It works not only with the body but also the mind.  If practiced well, it is a highly effective tool for stress reduction and stress management.

In a study reported in Yoga Journal, participants in groups using an approach based on Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, effectively reduced stress related sympotoms by 55% over an eight week period.

Here are some tips to help you incorporate this approach into at least a part of your yoga practice.

1. WARM UP – Spend a few minutes with vigorous movement and breath. You can just jump around if you want, or shake your body, do random movements or whatever just plain feels good to wake up your body. This part of the practice can be purely physical.

2. SELECT A SEQUENCE – Choose at least four postures.  A backbend, a forward bend, a side bend to each side and a twist. Select postures you’ve done before and that are relatively easy for you.  In this type of approach there is nothing to achieve physically. The postures are simply your vehicle.

3. BREATHING – Once you begin your yoga practice pay as much attention to your breath as you do to your body. Long, slow, deep, inhalations followed by relaxed full exhalations that are coordinated with you body movements work best. Be still on the inhale and then slowly move further into the stretch as you exhale.

4. PLAY THE EDGE – Remove all force, strain, and trying from your practice. Instead come gently to your edge in each posture using your breath to help you slowly get there. Think of your yoga practice as “effortless effort”.

5. FOCUS AWARENESS – Once you arrive at your edge, practice being present physically and emotionally to whatever you might be experiencing right in the moment – Think NOW! – what is happening NOW?.

6. ACCEPT – Whatever you notice, accept it. This is what is happening now and all that needs to happen.

7. CHOOSE – Decide in the moment how to be present to what is happening. You might feel an urge to move into a harder edge or a desire to back off a little. Do you really want to do this? Choose. Practice making different choices and see what happens as a result.

8. PAUSE AND REFLECT – After each posture and again at the end of your practice take a few moments to reflect on your experience and what you noticed. What did you notice in your yoga practice that carries over into your daily life?   What can you learn from it?

A good way for new yoga students to learn how to work with yoga this way, as a tool for stress management, is to find a yoga teacher or yoga therapist who can personally coach them in a private session. Choose one who is trained in a style of yoga that incorporates a mind-body approach.

Michael Lee is the author of Turn Stress Into Bliss and the founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. He writes a free weekly e-zine with lots of stories, information and tips. You can sign up to receive it at Turn-Stress-Into-Bliss.