Yoga is a moving meditation allowing us to find stillness of the mind. Our stream of consciousness is constantly jolting from one thought to another initiating moments of fear, anxiety, and stress. If you are faced with daily bouts of anxiety and stress, a regular practice of pranayama, asana and meditation may help to calm the mind and soothe moments of negative thought processes and tendencies towards catastrophic thinking.
The following is only a partial list of yoga’s benefits:
• reduced stress
• sound sleep
• reduced cortisol levels
• improvement of many medical conditions
• allergy and asthma symptom relief
• lower blood pressure
• smoking cessation help
• lower heart rate
• spiritual growth
• sense of well-being
• reduced anxiety and muscle tension
• increased strength and flexibility
• slowed aging process
Working as a secondary school teenager I see first-hand the impact that stress and anxiety has on teenagers. I wholeheartedly believe that yoga can help teenagers to reduce anxiety and to overcome exam stress and peer pressure. A British yoga charity carried out research with the BBC last year which found that when we experience stress, the body secretes cortisol. This hormone keeps us alert but if the level is too high for too long, we are stressed and anxious all the time and it affects our physical mental health. With yoga, we can regulate the level ourselves. An experiment showed this. One group did yoga, one did singing, and one just sat quietly. They measured the level of cortisol in the people’s saliva before and after, in each group. Yoga lowered cortisol levels most. But what was even more interesting was that, even before the session, the yoga people’s levels of cortisol were lower. Doing yoga keeps your cortisol low. It helps to keep the mind level, it helps to keep anxiety at bay. As a secondary school teacher, I want to see happy students that are calm, worry free, and achieving their goals and dreams. I am looking forward to integrating yoga into their daily schedule in order to help them reduce stress and anxiety and, increase academic and personal achievement.
The Parasympathetic nervous system is activated when we do yoga and this in turn also keeps anxiety at bay.
Meditation – Pranayama – Asana
The three breathing practices that follow—relaxed, diaphragmatic breathing; Sitali (or Sitkari) Pranayama; and gentle “extended exhale” breathing—are a good introduction to pranayama. Each supports the parasympathetic nervous system, quiets the mind, and helps to bring about a state of more focused attention. As you continue to practice these techniques over time, you may start to notice when you are unintentionally holding your breath or breathing shallowly. You also may begin to associate patterns of the breath with your moods or states of mind. This self awareness is the first step toward using the practices of pranayama to help shift your patterns and, through regular practice, create positive change in your life.
Basic Breath Awareness
This gentle introduction to diaphragmatic breathing teaches you how to breathe more fully and consciously.
Quiets and calms the entire nervous system, reducing stress and anxiety and improving self-awareness.
At least once a day, at any time.
Lie comfortably on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor about hip-distance apart. Place a palm on your abdomen and breathe comfortably for a few moments, noticing the quality of your breath. Does the breath feel tense? strained? uneven? shallow? Simply observe the breath without any judgment. Then gradually begin to make your breathing as relaxed and smooth as possible, introducing a slight pause after each inbreath and outbreath.
Once the breath feels relaxed and comfortable, notice the movement of the body. As you inhale, the abdomen naturally expands; as you exhale, feel the slight contraction of the abdomen. In a gentle way, try to actively expand the abdomen on the inhale and contract the abdomen on the exhale to support the natural movement of the diaphragm and experience the pleasure of giving yourself a full, relaxed breath. Continue the practice for 6 to 12 breaths.
The Cooling Breath (Sitali/Sitkari Pranayama)
Sitali Pranayama is often translated as “the cooling breath” because the act of drawing the air across the tongue and into the mouth is said to have a cooling and calming effect on the nervous system. To practice Sitali, you need to be able to curl the sides of your tongue inward so that it looks like a straw. The ability to curl the tongue is a genetic trait. If you can’t, try an alternative technique called Sitkari Pranayama, which offers the same effects.
Can improve focus; reduce agitation, anger, and anxiety; and pacify excess heat in the system.
I believe that a vinyasa flow class with smooth transition from one pose to another can help students to feel less worried and allow them to find stillness of the mind, freeing their mind of niggling worries and negative thoughts. The following is a sequence you can practise to relieve anxiety and bring stillness to the mind.
About the Author:
Caoimhe works as a School teacher in Dublin, Ireland. Her experience with stressed teenagers increased her interest in yoga. She completed a 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training in Ireland and has recently taken the next step in India. She took part at the 300 Hour Yoga Teacher Training at Yoga India Foundation last month.
The 300 Hour Yoga Teacher Training at Yoga India Foundation is for yoga practitioners who have experience at teaching yoga and have completed a 200 Hour Teach Training at a RYS-200 previously.