women

Stress is so finely woven into everyday life that it’s hard to imagine a day without it. Whether it’s work, family, deadlines or money, there always seems to be something to worry about. But even if you’re well accustomed to the feeling of stress, it can take a mental and physical toll on your wellbeing.

Description: The fact that we very rarely stop and take time to just “be”, even for a few minutes, goes against our true human nature

The fact that we very rarely stop and take time to just “be”, even for a few minutes, goes against our true human nature

In fact, according to mental health charity Mind, you may have some of the physical symptoms of stress without even being aware of it. Breathlessness, feeling sick or dizzy, restlessness, sleeping problems, food cravings, constipation or diarrhea can all point to a heavy stress load, while severe stress has been linked to heart disease.

The science of calm

No wonder that scientists are now focusing on the best ways to beat stress and improve wellbeing. But while yoga has been steadily gaining popularity in the western world, the scientific community is only just catching up to what yogis have long known: that the ancient practice of yoga can have a significant impact on mental wellbeing and emotional and physical strength. The word yoga means “union” in Sanskirt (the language of ancient India where yoga began) and the postures are designed to coordinate the breath, mind and body to encourage internal and external balance, and boost relaxation.

Back in 2005 a German study found that taking two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months improved levels of depression by 50 per cent and anxiety by 30 per cent in women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed”. And in a recent UK study, British university staff who showed stress and concern for their emotional wellbeing were sent to 60-minute yoga class once a week for six weeks. The staff reported a significant improvement in feelings of elation, energy, composure and confidence, as well as a renewed sense of life purpose.

Description: The most important thing is to find the mindfulness method that works best for you

The most important thing is to find the mindfulness method that works best for you

Time to slow down

Yoga might sound like the ideal antidote to life’s relentless rat in theory, but who has the time for 60 minutes of downward dogs when there are deadlines to meet? It’s an argument yoga expert Conrad Paul, founder of www.yogaprofessionals.net, hears a lot.

“Most people feel there are not enough hours in the day to do what they think they should be doing,” he says. “But, the fact that we very rarely stop and take time to just “be”, even for a few minutes, goes against our true human nature and is often detrimental to our health, as the body and mind get no time to stop.”

The good news is, regular yoga practice, with its deep connection to meditation, can teach you how to slow down and live in the moment. Lodro Rinzler, author of The Buddha Walks into a Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation ($19.5, Shambala Publications) says mindfulness is crucial for modern life. “All too often we rush through our life without any real appreciation for what’s going on right now,” he says. “Through meditation, we learn to rest with our current situation: the physical sensation of our stiff back, our body breathing naturally, and the thoughts flowing through our mind. This training in being present with various aspects of our life leads to a sense of slowing down and gaining precision.”

Stress, busted

Hands up if it’s been so long since you truly relaxed that you’ve forgotten how to connect with yourself? Here’s a tip – true quality time doesn’t mean sitting in front of the TV, spending hours on Facebook or reading a book. Instead, we’re talking about taking the time to sit with your own thoughts and just “be”. And you don’t need to meditate for an hour to feel the positive effects of this state of mind – just five or 10 minutes, even on your commute to work, can transform your day.

Alternatively, try setting your alarm 10 minutes earlier and practising a few yoga poses and some deep breathing first thing in the morning. You’ll soon start to see the benefits as practice helps to boost the feel-good chemicals in your brain, strengthens your immune system and increases your energy levels. Turn to page 50 for a great flow yoga routine or try a DVD such as Barbara Currie’s Power of Yoga ($16.5, www.barbaracurrieyoga.com), which features 10-minute workouts that slot easily into a busy schedule. Yoga is also a great complementary training technique for runners and cyclists, so working a weekly class into your regular fitness routine will have real body benefits, too.

The most important thing is to find the mindfulness method that works best for you. If you don’t like the first one you try, don’t be put off. Put it at the top of your to-do list and find out what a life without stress is really like.

Get started

Try Conrad Paul’s breathing technique to reconnect to your body and mind. “Observe the gentle inhalation and exhalation of your breath while imagining the air filling every part of the body down to the tiniest cell. When you focus on breathing and begin to slow it down, you are tapping into your subconscious mind and consciously taking control of your breath.”

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