Gentle Yoga for Stress Relief by Cyndi Roberts
WEEK 1: Identifying The Stress Response
Stress manifests in so many different forms. A stress reaction occurs as a response to what we are witnessing in our reality. We often become so heavily focused on the situation at hand, especially when we see it as a “problem”. Our thoughts replay the problem over and over creating suffering without solution. When the mind is focused on the problem, we cannot receive the solution. The mind becomes trapped in the circular and repetitive thoughts of what is “wrong”, making us feel worse, exhausted and more stressed.
When life seems overwhelming, negative or intense, there is a good chance you are stuck in your stress reaction. High demands, expectations and responsibilities we put on ourselves day-to-day keep this reaction going. It doesn’t have to be one major event going “wrong”. It can be a series of small stressors piling up.
We all have base topics that are important to us in life, such as health, home life, work life, finances and relationships. Sometimes the stressor and pressure may come from one area or a combination of these areas. These conditions and surroundings trigger stress when they seem out of balance.
Our minds play a huge role in our level of stress and can make our stress level skyrocket or plummet. It’s all based on our perception of what we think we can control. When we embrace the idea that most things are out of our control, we significantly decrease the stress reaction.
Imagine a duck swimming in the lake. The duck plunges itself down into the water and pops back up. The water rolls effortlessly off the ducks feathers and the duck continues to swim unhindered by the water on it’s back. We can be like the duck and let the little things in life that are out of our control, (which most are) roll off our backs. Then we can flow with life, rather than holding on to past regrets that slow us down.
Stress manifests differently for all of us but can include:
Using the strategies and tools in this program will help you to identify the source of stress so you can effectively soothe yourself and feel better—putting an end to the chronic cycle of stress that you are trapped in. Stressors of life will come and go. The key is to let them come and go, without getting trapped in the cycle of stress.
We’ll begin with a mantra—a word or series of words—to repeat silently over and over to help focus the mind toward something positive, rather than something negative or stressful.
These mantras act as positive affirmations to help shift stressful momentum in the mind to ease in the mind. This shift will not only occur in the mind, but it will also be felt in the body. When dealing with important issues, like health, mindset is where it all starts. A positive mindset brings you back into balance and well-being.
“I am peaceful and at ease”
Even if you don’t believe this statement, keep silently repeating it and let this powerful, positive statement fill up the cells in the mind and body.
Affirmations are a powerful tool we use to change the emotional energy we are emitting. Emit peace, rather than stress and you will receive more peace.
Gradually, it will get easier to believe as you notice more moments of peace and ease in your life. It’s normal for distractions to come in as you practice. Gently guide the focus back to the mantra and begin again.
Find a quiet place with no distractions and have your journal nearby. Take a few deep breaths to settle in before you read the questions. When you are ready, contemplate the question below. Take notes of your insights and reflections. Spend as much time here as you need and come back to the questions at another time, if you like. Try to listen to what the body is saying as well. Notice the breath, emotions and places of tension or ease.
Make a list of situations, concerns or challenges that trigger the stress response in you, both in your yoga practice and daily life.
Some stressors may be events that have already happened or worry about future events that could happen. Other stressors may include your internal response to those situations.
As you write, notice how you feel and what your physical and emotional body’s response is. Notice where your stress shows up.
Keep this list as we will revisit it in the upcoming weeks.
After creating your list, set it aside, sit up tall, close your eyes and breathe deeply for 5 inhales and exhales.
Notice if there is any relief from getting it out. Allow yourself to release to the page in front of you with each breath and let it go.
Ask yourself what you need in this moment to feel better. Look within to find a way to self-soothe.
It’s okay if you are unsure. Beware of old coping mechanisms popping up, like emotional eating, giving into addictions or self-loathing. I suggest practicing the pranayama and/or yoga sequence for this week. Remember, you can practice these sequences as many times as you like during the week. These tools are helpful to move stress out of the body and increase body awareness.
Releasing Stressors In The Body – 75 minutes
This sequence was crafted to release holding and stress in the whole body. Tension in the neck, shoulders, chest, side body, hips and legs are gently and effectively stretched out.
Becoming Aware of the Breath Exercise
The purpose of this exercise is to connect to breathing and expand shallow breaths. Expanding the breath turns the parasympathetic nervous system back on. This is the system responsible for relaxation, which counters stress and anxiety. This exercise brings awareness to the muscles used for breathing as the attention is turned inward.
The breath is a powerful tool to calm the mind and body. With practice, the automatic response of shallow breathing, which may contribute to stress and anxiety, gradually shifts to deeper breathing, which increases health and well-being. One deep breath at a time, we have the power to slow, stop and pivot the current vibration of chronic stress and anxiety.