Neglect of mental health reflects in one’s lifestyle and outlook on life, affecting his/her eating habits, physical appearance, relationships, social and professional life, etc. Stress or anxiety disorder are the most common mental disorders experienced by men and women alike. So how does one fight stress? Should changes first be made to one’s physical habits or should one first work on their attitude?
Yoga and Pranayam to fight Stress:
Physiological and Psychological effects are directly linked with each other and through the practice of Yoga we can restore both physical and emotional balance. A Yoga asana or posture can help you increase your focus and stay in the present moment, even though numerous thoughts cross our mind.
Pranayam or deep breathing helps you build your inner awareness and calm your mind.
Together, Yoga Asanas and Pranayam help you detox and flush out impurities as they directly impact your respiratory and nervous system. Yoga helps you better understand the connection between your body, mind and breath, it teaches you to contemplate on your reaction to certain circumstances and gives you the strength to respond with compassion.
1. Seated and Standing forward bends like Child’s Pose (Balasana) or Standing Forward Bend (Utthanasana):
Helps us in deep exhalations as we hold the posture and breathe. They create space in the spinal vertebrae thus improving blood circulation to all the nerves. Forward bends massage your internal organs such as abdomen, kidney,liver etc and help you exhale completely, thus calming your mind. Looking inward with awareness will help you free you mind from all unnecessary thoughts.
I usually encourage my students to press their stomach to their thighs instead of bringing their head to the knee or toe. This way they ensure that their spine is straight. You can bend your knees gently and adjust till the stomach is pressed to your lower body. Lengthen your spine instead of curving and let chin be away from your chest. The ratio for inhalation and exhalation is usually 1:2 and deep exhalations teach us to let go.
2. Spine centering through Cat (Marjariasana) and Cow (Bitilasana) pose –
– Breathing in and out, moving in a flow from cat pose to cow pose whilst balancing on all fours, i.e. placing wrists directly in line with the shoulder and keeping knees hip width apart and in line with your hip.
– Arch your back, look up and inhale for cat pose and curve your spine, squeeze your tummy muscles and exhale for a cow pose.
3. Inversions like Headstand (Sirshasana) or Legs Up The Wall (Viparita Karani):
Helps us reverse the blood flow, lowering your heart rate and BP and helps in aligning your spine. Holding inversions is a great stress buster as it rejuvenates your body and mind. Beginners can take wall support and use bolsters to support their back. Special care has to be taken to not put pressure on your head or neck. One can give a counter stretch to the neck after holding inversions by practicing Matsyasana.
4. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
It may seem like the easiest pose but it is considered one of the most challenging asanas and it is recommended that you practice this at the very end.
– Lie on your back (close your eyes) and relax your muscles, moving the awareness from your toes all the way up to your crown.
– Become aware of the entire back side of your body and its weight as you softly inhale and exhale.
– Slowly, move the awareness to the front of your body, relaxing your eyes, your mouth and moving the awareness to the gentle rise and fall of your chest and stomach.
– Begin to count from 10 to 1 in your head with every exhalation, breathing as naturally as you can.
– At the count of 1, slowly turn to your right and sit up.
– Rub your hands and when warm, place them on eyes and look into your palms as you open your eyes.
Breathing exercises (Pranayama):
1. Deep Exhalations
– Sit comfortably with a straight spine and relaxed neck and shoulder.
– Close your eyes and move your awareness to your breath.
– Start counting from 10 to 1 in your mind, starting with 10 for the first exhalation.
– Gradually move the awareness to exhalations and see that they are longer than your inhalations.
2. Abdominal/Diaphragmatic Breathing
– You can practice this lying down or when seated with a straight back.
– Let your stomach expand as you inhale and let your lower abdominal muscles contract as you exhale completely.
– For better awareness, you can place your right hand on your navel and observe the rise and fall of your hand as the stomach expands and sinks.
3. Brahmari Pranayama/Bee Breath
One of the best techniques to instantly calm your mind down and can be practiced anywhere. The exhalations in Brahmari are similar to the humming sound of the bee, thus its name.
– You can sit or lie down and close your ears with you thumb so that you can hear only your voice.
– Rest your index finger on your forehead and let the remaining fingers rest on your eyes.
– Inhale through your nose and when exhaling make a bee like humming sound (Ohmm).
– Repeat a few times and after each exhalations, become aware of the healing vibrations as your body and mind resonate with the divine music.