How Yoga Reduces Stress, Anxiety and Depression

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The physical practice of yoga holds many benefits for mind, body and spirit.

By focusing our attention for longer periods of time during specific asanas (postures) we can work to release difficult emotions that over time have manifested as stiffness, aches, pains, injuries, illnesses and diseases in our body.

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To understand this, let us take a step back and look at ourselves as the whole being we are. The trilogy of mind, body and spirit are truly one and thus what we think in our mind will ultimately affect our body. Otherwise, we are merely of the viewpoint that we are a disjointed, disconnected being, which simply is not true. Quantum physics teaches us that everything, including us (!) is a vibrating mass of energy. From this perspective we can see that we have the power to impact on how we channel that energy to affect the outcome, who we are.

During yoga, the breath connects us to the quantum level of energy and we can begin to work on the subtle aspects of ourselves, that we cannot see.

Although we can experience symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, these are merely the effect of an underlying cause that we may be unaware of. Certainly with anxiety and depression this is the often the case. Yoga works on a much deeper level enabling us to bring feelings to the surface that we can process and release emotions that will enable a shift leading to greater self awareness and growth.

Hips, hamstrings and back are three areas of the body where we can store deep seated emotions.

In Ashtanga yoga, Paschimottanasana (Western Intense Stretch), the seated forward bend, stretches the hamstrings, opens the hips and the back side of the body; often associated with opening up the past. Sitting with legs extended, bringing the toes towards you while pushing the heels away, lift the chest, draw in the lower abdomen engaging mula and uddiyana bandhas and fold forward over the legs, leading with the chest. Holding the posture for longer than the usual 5 breaths enables a deeper asana, connection with our inner self and allows emotions to surface. Drishti (gaze) should be to the toes, although I often find once settled deeper into the pose you can ease your neck and rest your head on your knees or beyond if comfortable. Remain with the focus on the breath and allow the synergy of breath and posture to weave its magic.

Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Posture) is a strong hip opening pose. Sitting comfortably bringing the soles of the feet together as close to the groin as possible, open your feet with your hands while gently pushing the knees towards the floor with the elbows as you do so. As you exhale and go deeper into the posture you can work your chin beyond the feet towards the floor. I have found there is a point in this pose where you really begin to feel any emotional pain as the hips open. This pain is felt physically but with careful guidance and working with the breath, you can remain in the posture comfortably for around 15-20 breaths. As you come up and the hips open you may experience the emotional release by a sudden outburst of crying. This is perfectly normal and part of the process. To finish the posture you can rest your head on your feet, finally coming up and bringing the knees back together.

Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Posture) in Ashtanga yoga is the first of the finishing sequence and a strong back bend that is preceded by several warm up back bends. This asana opens the hips, chest and back of the body. It is vital to work with breath, safely guiding you into the back bend. It can be achieved by pushing up from the floor (as in a crab like posture) or dropping back, which takes time to work towards. As you bend backwards, energy travels through the spine and cleanses the nervous system. Backbends work to clear emotional blockages stored along this channel, releasing strong emotions. Backbends can be a little daunting and are best practiced under the guidance of a teacher who can help you through the obstacles.

The goal of yoga is self realisation; to understand and accept ourselves. Yoga is to focus on the breath uniting mind, body and spirit, enabling a connection with our true self and higher energy that is life force (prana) and that which permeates every living thing. Through the avenue of the breath yoga enables us to connect and gently bring to the surface emotions that have become ‘stuck’ in our bodies. The emotions stored as blockages in the body manifest as pain, injury, illness or disease. As well as yoga postures working to release emotions and connect with the cause of these, the accumulation of breath flowing through the body works to clear blockages and enable energy to flow more freely. Bandhas (subtle energy locks) used in Ashtanga yoga, keep energy circulating freely inside the body. It is said that a person who is healthy has energy flowing freely within the body, whereas a person who is unwell has energy flowing out of the body.

Ultimately, yoga cleanses and purifies the mind, body and spirit, healing from the inside out, leaving the whole system refreshed, rejuvenated; restoring homeostasis, our natural balance and harmony.


About author: Shelley Costello is a yoga teacher, writer and wellness coaching helping others to overcome challenge and change to live a happier, healthier and more fulfilled life. A qualified yoga teacher and life coach, she has studied many areas of wellness to include nutrition, relaxation, Ayurveda, meditation, relaxation, Indian Head massage, Buddhism and different self development programmes and techniques.

Shelley has published two books and several articles with the International Yoga Magazine. She writes and publishes articles regularly on self development and wellbeing and is currently writing her third book.

Visit Shelley Costello at http://www.shelleycostello.net

 


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