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Yoga And Stress Relief: Take A Deep Breath!

Apr 9, 2008
Tense muscles and rapid breath. Headache and stomach ache. Difficulty sleeping, depression and irritability. All symptoms of the great modern complaint: stress. How can we relieve stress and make our bodies and minds less susceptible to its ravages in the future? More and more people are turning to yoga, an age old method of balancing mind and body.

Yoga uses a combination of mental activity, physical activity, stillness, meditation and breathing exercises to balance and detoxify the body and mind. The physical activity is composed of positions known as asanas. Different asanas have benefits for different systems of the body. For instance, asanas commonly referred to as twists are excellent for detoxification and regulation of the digestion and lymphatic system. Poses where the heart is above the head, known as inverted poses, are said to "turn back the clock" and stimulate the circulatory and glandular systems.

Pranayama is the name for yoga breathing practices and range from very simple awareness of breath exercises to changing of breath patterns for specific health benefits. They can have a profound impact on mental and physical health and can be practiced anywhere and at any time! Don't believe me? Try this quick breathing exercise while sitting in the chair at your computer:

1. Uncross your legs and place the soles of your feet flat on the floor.

2. If you are feeling that your energy levels are low, rest your hands with the palms up on your thighs; for stress relief and grounding, rest your hands palms down.

3. Start by taking notice of the natural movement of your breath as you inhale and exhale. Spend one minute breathing in and out slowly. Feel the inflation of your chest and belly as you observe your breathing.

4. Now gently release the muscles in the back of your neck and tuck in your chin slightly. Feel the crown of the head reach toward the sky. Ground your feet downwards as you find stillness in your body.

5. Begin to deepen your breathing, allowing the breath to circulate lower and lower into your belly. Keep your shoulders relaxed by rolling your shoulder blades down the back.

6. Now begin to even out the lengths of inhales and exhales to come to a smooth rhythmic breath. First, inhale a breath through the nose, filling up the lungs while slowly counting to five, then exhale through the nose, emptying the lungs to another count of five.

7. Continue to inhale and exhale through the nose, lengthening the the inhales and exhales until your breathing is at a slow, comfortable pace. This is the even, calm breathing that you should use during a beginning yoga practice. It can also be used by itself as a breathing exercise to increase mental equanimity and focus.

With the physical benefits of yoga come mental benefits. At the least, the combination of physical activity and concentration on yoga breathing practices allows you to stop your mind from racing and gives you a break from the distractions of the world. Improvement in overall mood and energy levels are also often reported with the continuing practice of yoga.

Eventually, the goal of the asanas is to create health and balance throughout all of the systems of the body, leaving the mind free to find peace and balance without the interruption of pain or discomfort. In fact, possibly the most important health benefits of yoga can be found in the last yoga pose in any yoga sequence--savasana. As you lay down in stillness, savasana allows your body to incorporate all of the benefits of your yoga practice. Yoga can be incorporated into daily life, using a combination of breathing techniques and asana sequences. Even a ten minute yoga exercise can bring mental focus and calmness to your life.
About the Author
Ashley Hecht is one of the founders of Guided Yoga ( www.guidedyoga.com), an online yoga studio bringing personalized yoga and yoga breathing classes to aspiring yogis of all skill levels, and dedicated to improving the quality of the online yoga experience.
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