Yoga Focus – Stress: The good and the bad…

By practicing some simple habits we can change the way we respond to stressful situations and retain control of our day, writes yoga educator Lisa Greenbaum.

Elements of stress are good for us. The fight or flight mechanism hard-wired into our nervous system can save our life. The knee-jerk response to jumping out of the way of a moving vehicle, the sharp intake of breath, our hearts racing, the rush of adrenaline. This is the rush many who love rollercoasters, bungee jumping or other such intense activities chase. This is good stress. Our bodies have a chance to process the increased cortisol released into our systems, and we will often feel a bit of a high afterwards. This same stress can be a great motivator to try new things, to push our boundaries. The butterflies we feel when we are about to step in front of a class for the first time and the rush we feel when we know we have taught an amazing session.

When this same chemical reaction in our bodies turns against us, it is almost simultaneous to when we turn against it. When our fight or flight mechanism kicks in to situations we have no outlet for. Cancelled appointments, traffic jams, unexpected work projects and looming deadlines. We feel ourselves seething. Our blood is boiling or we turn inwards and feel helpless. Living in modern society, it’s almost impossible to avoid these events. However, controlling our immediate response to stressful situations will make the difference between our day being ruined and simply encountering a small bump in the road of life.

Regular exercise, including yoga, eating well and getting enough sleep are the first modes of defence against bad stress. As fitness professionals, let’s make sure we are practicing and teaching other good habits to help in this defense:

1. Breathe

Between 3-5 minutes of deep, full belly breathing before and after our workouts to bring a deeper mind/body connection to any workout. New research is providing the science to back up the power of this process.

2. Listen to your body

It doesn’t always have to be no pain no gain. Going easier on yourself every now and then may teach you to be easier on yourself outside of the gym as well.

3. Stretch!

Take time at the end of any workout to stretch out your hard working muscles, especially through the upper back and neck area where most of our stress sits in our bodies. Try putting on slower music, closing your eyes and relaxing into your stretch rather than pushing or pulling.

4. Participate in mind-body workouts

Incorporate yoga and meditation into your routine one or twice a week to give yourself a complete mind-body workout. The essence of YogaFit teaches us to breathe, feel, listen to our bodies, let go of judgment, competition and expectation and stay present. These are all important elements to help us reduce stress and become happier in our own bodies.

Avoiding stress is probably impossible – not to mention incredibly boring. Good stress can create the richness in our lives, promote growth and keep us trying new things. Bad stress will make us sick – literally. It will age us and make us feel incompetent. Being aware of how our stress is affecting us and where our stress is coming from is where our attention should be placed. The next time you find yourself in a stress-inducing situation, take a moment to become aware of your response and ask yourself, is it helping or harming?

Lisa Greenbaum holds her E-RYT 500 in yoga. She is a yoga instructor and educator.