I’ve worked as a yoga teacher in the field of mental health for almost 20 years. In that time I have taught yoga for mental health in the NHS, for mental health charities and also for some of the worlds leading mental health and addiction services.
One of the best ways of improving someone’s mental wellbeing is by helping them to manage stress.
Stress is something that we all have and actually need. It drives us to overcome obstacles and motivates us to achieve. However, too much stress over long periods of time can have a huge effect on us physically, mentally, emotionally and socially.
Stress is a predictor and risk factor for most common mental health conditions and also suicide.
We get used to stress. We have so many demands, so many responsibilities, things that drain our resources and time. Stress slowly creeps up on us, it builds and builds until we find ourselves overwhelmed. In my experience people often don’t acknowledge just how much stress they have to deal with day to day.
The good news is there are many ways to practically manage stress and yoga is one of the best.
So how can we use yoga to help us manage stress?
Conscious breathing can take us from a state of stress and anxiety to relaxation and calm.
At times of stress chemicals in your brain are released and we enter the fight, flight, freeze part of our autonomic nervous system (ANS) called the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
When this happens stress hormones are released, your heart rate increases, your pupils dilate, blood is taken from your gastrointestinal system and directed to your skeletal muscles. In short it prepares you to respond to imminent danger.
The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is the relaxation response. Rest, digest, feed and breed – nice things, and the PNS is related to the exhale.
So, one of the simplest and most effective ways to go from this state of heightened arousal to a state of relaxation is to change the breath.
The next time you find yourself stressed out, take your focus to your breath, count the length of your inhale and exhale and then simply inhale slightly more than you already are and make the exhale slightly longer than the inhale. It’s very important that you don’t fight with your breath. Extend the breath but keep it satisfying. If you find yourself straining or gasping you’re doing too much, so slow down and take your time.
You can learn more about stress and how to manage it on the Youth and Adult Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health Aware Courses.