Everyone experiences different challenges and difficulties in life and sometimes the pressure becomes too difficult for us to handle. When we feel that it is hard to meet the demands placed on us, we experience stress. Stress in small amounts can be a good thing, just that extra push to finish what we are doing. But when the going gets too tough and life's demands exceed our ability to cope, stress becomes a threat to both our physical and emotional well-being.
Stress is a psychological and physiological response to actions that disturb our personal balance in one way or another. When we experience excessive stress—whether from internal worry or external circumstances a bodily reaction called the "fight or flight" response is initiated.
When the “fight-or-flight” stress response is triggered our body undergoes a series of very dramatic changes; heart and respiratory rate increases, blood is moved away from our digestive tract and directed into our muscles and limbs, so as we get extra energy for running and fighting, pupils dilate, sight sharpens, impulses quicken, the digestive and reproductive systems slow down, growth hormones are switched off, the immune response is repressed all to become prepared—physically and psychologically—for fight or flight. This was what had helped our ancestors to survive when confronted by a ferocious animal.
But in our modern world most of the stress we feel is not of a physical threat. We become stressed when we are stuck in a traffic jam, when we have lots of bills to pay or when we are working too hard. Unfortunately our bodies do not make this distinction and the fight or flight response is initiated. Prolonged stress will harm our body leading to a long list of symptoms such as heart disease, anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome and memory problems. Unreleased stress has become ubiquitous and is taking charge of our bodies as it diminishes our enjoyment of life, consequently it is essential to learn how to deal with stress in a more positive way so as to reduce its impact on our daily life. A yoga practice is an excellent way to soothe nerves that are in a constant state of overdrive.
Yoga teaches us how to let go of physical tension in the body before it can accumulate over time and become chronic physical and psychological ailments. By practicing physical postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation we learn to release physical blockages and toxins from our body. During the resting poses in yoga such as corpse pose the body is allowed to rest in a state free of the "fight or flight" stress response in order to recover and revitalize.
Yoga teaches us techniques to relax the mind and to let go of thoughts. Very often our stressful situations are caused by habitual thoughts. Yoga can help us to become aware of these thoughts, enabling us to let go and allowing the mind to relax. In this relaxed aware state, we are much better able to deal with any new stressful events which may occur. This state also helps us leave behind any of the stress reactions which may be left over from a previous stressful episode. It is worrying that can often extend and exacerbate the mental tension which we allow to build up within ourselves. By being able to recognize this trait in ourselves, and by teaching us techniques to let go, Yoga helps us to cultivate more relaxed and balanced states of mind.
Yoga teaches us how to use the breath to help us relax. One huge signal the body listens to is the breath. In normal circumstances our breath is slow and fairly regulated but in stressful circumstances our breath becomes quick and shallow and inflow of oxygen is diminished. Yoga practice teaches us how to lengthen and deepen the breath creating a more balanced state of body and mind.
Certain yoga asanas (postures) give a good massage and improve the functioning of the vital organs and glands. This helps to keep these organs healthy and they in turn are more able to help the body to return to a homeostasis after a stressful event has occurred. It also helps these organs to take the additional strain which is felt as the stress reactions take place in the body.
Yoga helps us to recognize and identify the internal desires and the needs which arise from always wanting more than we have. It then allows us to investigate the root cause of these desires and to reduce them at source letting us see the bigger picture. If we remind ourselves of this, we can stand back and see ourselves clinging onto the very things which are causing us pain and agony. Let’s face it, sometimes we are so busy that we do not even have time to enjoy the things which are most dear to us so it is important to sit down and think which things come first in our life so we can give them priority and enjoy them to the full. Too much desires and attachments will lead to unhappiness.