Fitness Magazine

6 Ways to Bust Stress with Yoga

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina 

6 Ways to Bust Stress with Yoga

Sandy Carmellini, Age 53

“The antidote to stress is relaxation. To relax is to rest deeply. This rest is different from sleep. Deep states of sleep include periods of dreaming which increase muscular tension, as well as other physiological signs of tension. Relaxation is a state in which there is no movement, no effort, and the brain is quiet." —Judith Lasater 
The six yogic tools on our list today all provide you, in different ways, with the ability to switch your nervous system from Stress response (Fight or Flight mode) to Relaxation mode (Rest and Digest mode). Turning off the Stress response reduces your overall stress levels and allows you to experience the benefits of conscious relaxation. (See Life-Changer: Understanding Your Autonomic Nervous System for more information about your nervous system and The Relaxation Response and Yoga for information about the Relaxation response.) 
These stress management tools are not all interchangeable, however. Although you can use any of these practices for stress management and you can choose whichever techniques you prefer to trigger the Relaxation Response, these practices each have different roles to play in a balanced yoga practice. 

6 Ways to Bust Stress with Yoga

1. Meditation. This practice triggers the Relaxation Response through your focus on an object of meditation. Options include both seated and reclined meditation, with a mental focus of the breath or other physical sensations, mantra or sound, and visual imagery. See Starting a Meditation Practice and How to Meditate. 

The role of meditation in a balanced yoga practice is particularly important (see Is Meditation an Essential Part of Practicing Yoga? and Samyama: The Trinity of Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi). Although you can use meditation for stress reduction, its role in classical yoga is to quiet the mind to allow union with the divine or “liberation.” Meditation is also, as Timothy McCall says, a “fabulous tool to study your mind and slowly gain more control over it.”
2. Breath Practices. Simple breath awareness triggers the Relaxation Response by providing a mental focus. Pranayama practices that slow the breath or lengthen the exhalation are calming to the nervous system (see Pranayama: A Powerful Key to Your Nervous System). Breath practices can be performed either seated or reclined.
Like meditation, pranayama is also an important component of classical yoga, and precedes meditation as one of eight steps on the path to samadhi (union with the divine). It is considered an instrument to “steady the mind” and a gateway to dharana (the first phase of meditation). See The Fourth Branch of Yoga: Pranayama. 
3. Restorative Yoga. These modern yoga poses provides deep physical relaxation by supporting and relaxing your body, and can trigger the Relaxation Response if you practice them with a mental focus. Classic examples are Reclined Cobbler’s pose and Supported Child’s pose. See Restorative Yoga: An Introduction for more information. 
4. Supported Inversions. These modern yoga poses use gravity to trigger the Relaxation Response through the mechanisms that control your blood pressure. You don’t need a mental focus (although you can use one); as long as you are warm, quiet, and comfortable in the pose, all you have to do is let pose work its magic. Classic examples are Legs Up the Wall pose and Supported Bridge pose. See All About Supported Inverted Poses.
Caution: Inverted poses may be unsafe for those with certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure that is not controlled with medication, eye problems, such as glaucoma or detached retina, recent oral surgery, or neck problems (for the inversions that put pressure on their necks). See Friday Q&A: Cautions for Inversions.
5. Savasana. In both plain and supported forms, this pose provides deep physical relaxation for your body and can trigger the relaxation response if you practice it with a mental focus. See Savasana (Corpse Pose) and Savasana Variations.
Savasana is an ancient yoga pose. Based on what I’ve read about the original practice, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Savasana is a reclining form of meditation. For some traditional yogis, it was a meditation on death, hence the literal translation of the name Savasana is “Corpse pose,” and it was sometimes even practiced alongside actual corpses. To practice Savasana properly, however, you must actually do the work of meditating while you are in the pose (and make sure you don’t fall asleep). If you don’t actually meditate while in Savasana, then, well, you are simply relaxing. But that's okay, too, if that is what you are after.
6. Focused Relaxation. These guided relaxation practices, which include basic body scans and visualization practices, as well as formal practices like yoga nidra, allow you to achieve both physical relaxation and reduce stress levels by guiding you through a deep physical relaxation experience and providing mental imagery that harnesses you to the present.
Focused relaxation practices are specifically designed as relaxation techniques, and as such do not replace meditation or pranayama in a balanced yoga practice. This is true of any form of Savasana in which an external voice is providing instructions and/or imagery for you.
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