Yoga for Stress Relief

In the competitive and fast-paced world we live today, it is inevitable for us to experience stress. However, regardless of whether the stress we feel is related to work, family or unknown and unexpected situations, it is important for us to manage stress. Personally, I’m terrible at managing stress and I tend to just let my anxiety get the better of me when I feel like I don’t know what to do. However, after practising yoga, I found myself beginning to be a little more composed and stable whenever I encounter problems that cause me stress.

It’s hard to directly explain the link between practising yoga and relieving stress, but I will attempt to do so by sharing certain aspects of yoga that have definitely contributed to my ability to cope with stress. I have narrowed it down to mainly pranayama and the commitment to practise asanas.

Pranayama refers to a practice of controlling our breath, which is also the source of our prana (also known as the vital life force). Although breathing is something we do unconsciously, controlling our breath is the opposite. Focusing and slowing our breath down calms our sympathetic nervous system (the system that directs our body’s rapid involuntary response to stressful situations) and stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system (the system responsible for our rest and digestion response when we are relaxed). Before YTT, I never paid much attention to pranayama. But now, I have begun to slowly appreciate practising pranayama as I do truly feel more relaxed after practising mindful breathing.

The commitment to practise asanas is also something that has helped me with stress management. Asanas refer to yoga poses. After practising certain yoga poses, I was able to focus on my breath at the start and slowly realise that I could cope with the amount of stress I felt. Below are some yoga poses that have helped me relieve stress:

1. Sukhasana (Easy Pose) with forward bend: With the forward fold, this increase the exhale which can lead to the relaxation response
2. Marjaryasana (Cat Pose): This pose stretches and soothes our lower back, allowing us to have our body, especially our muscles cool down
3. Bitilasana (Cow Pose): It warms our spine up and also helps to create an emotional balance by massaging our organs
4. Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose): This pose has a therapeutic impact for those with high blood pressure. It gently stretches our back and legs

I believe yoga has a part to play in relieving stress and we should appreciate the practice by being more thankful for the benefits we enjoy because of yoga. This is especially so for pranayama, since it is more conscious and very advantageous. However, I would personally not expect to relieve myself of all the stress I experience immediately after practising yoga. It takes time and yoga is a process which I wish to carry on with for as long as I can! 😊

Understanding the 5 Popular Types of Yoga

There are many different types of yoga today and it may be confusing for some, especially beginners. However, no matter what style of yoga you practise, you are likely to enjoy benefits from regular practice such as improvement in flexibility, strength, muscle toning and posture. In this blog post I will be briefly sharing about 5 popular types of yoga and their characteristics.

1. Ashtanga Yoga
The Sanskrit word “Ashtanga” means eight limbs. It was first used by an ancient Indian sage, Patanjali to describe eight practices (“limbs”) which should be mastered in order to experience the true goal of yoga. In short, these eight limbs of yoga are: Yama (abstinences), Niyama (observances), Asana (physical yoga postures), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (transcendence).
There are 6 series of Ashtanga Yoga, and they increase in difficulty as they advance from the primary series. Each series is a set sequence of asanas in the same order and they are usually fast-paced and physically challenging. However, there are Mysore-style classes where students can carry out the series at their own pace while yoga instructors assess them.

2. Hatha Yoga
The word “Hatha” can be translated to two meanings, “wilful” or “forceful”. Hatha Yoga practices are meant to align and calm our body, mind and spirit to prepare for meditation. A Hatha Yoga class generally involves a set of physical yoga poses (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama). These are practised at a slower pace with more static posture holds than other types of yoga.

3. Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa refers to a series, or sequence of steps. The Sanskrit word “Vinyasa” comes from a prefix vi-, meaning ‘variation’ and a suffix -nyasa, meaning “within prescribed parameters”. It is a style of yoga characterised by stringing postures together so that one moves from a posture to another seamlessly, using breath. A posture is connected to another in Vinyasa via “transitions”. They are basically what you do in between postures, but what is not always appreciated is that transitions are considered postures themselves. The variable nature of Vinyasa Yoga allows one to develop a more balanced body while preventing repetitive motion injuries that could possibly happen if one repeats the same thing every day.

4. Bikram Yoga
Bikram Yoga was initially introduced by Bikram Choudhury. The practice involves repeating the same 26 poses in set cycles over a span of 90 minutes. These poses were chosen by Choudhury from classic hatha poses and they should be done in a specific and unchanging order so as to achieve the desired benefits of Bikram Yoga. In addition, Bikram Yoga is typically done in a room heated to 40.6 degree Celsius or 105 degree Fahrenheit with a humidity of 40%. This form of hot yoga is meant to detox and eliminate toxins and aid weight loss while allowing one to become deeper into the posture.

5. Yin Yoga
Yin Yoga was founded and first taught by martial arts expert and Taoist Yoga teacher, Paulie Zink. Yin Yoga is a style of yoga that targets the deep connective tissues of our body such as the ligaments, joints, bones and fascia. It is slow-paced and poses can be held for 3 to 5 minutes. The reason for holding such poses is to apply moderate stress to the connective tissues so as to increase circulation in our joints and improve flexibility. Yin Yoga also improves energy flow and enhances the flow of chi (which means breath or air) in the organs.

Debunking 3 Common Myths of Yoga

Myths about yoga are common, and they can deter or prevent one from ever trying yoga. However, you never know unless you try! Besides, what’s the worst that can happen? In this blog post I will be sharing about the top 3 myths of yoga that have personally impacted me and how I came to realise why they are actually myths.

1. Yoga is for flexible people
From personal experience, whenever I mention yoga to people in my life, their (almost) immediate response is “I’m not flexible so I can’t do yoga…” I recount on when I first started yoga as well and, to be honest, I too had that thought. If I could narrow it down to one reason why I had that pre-conceived thought, it’s probably because I associated yoga with the pictures of yoga practitioners doing intense splits, forward folds, back bends etc. It could be the way yoga is marketed today, in real life through posters or banners as well as on the internet via social media platforms. After practising yoga for a while, I realised how doing yoga actually made me more flexible. Yoga is a practice and a work in progress; one can improve his/her flexibility only through consistent yoga practice. It was then when I finally understood that “Yoga is for flexible people” is only a myth.

2. Yoga is just stretching
This is another common myth of yoga. I personally hear this from people who have never tried yoga or have tried yoga but only went for classes that focus on stretching. It is very likely for someone to have this yoga misconception if he/she focuses on other more flexible students in the class and keeps thinking that he/she will never be as flexible as them. It is normal to compare and feel inferior. At my first ever yoga class, I too had this experience of seeing how others were so flexible and yet I was not. However, I did not feel that way throughout the whole class as we also did sun salutations and balancing postures. It opened my mind and made me realise that there was more to yoga than just stretching. Although yoga is not like weight training or intense cardio workouts, yoga incorporates coordination, strength and balance. You may even be using muscles you have not trained before when practising yoga, and that is what makes yoga more than just stretching. Apart from these physical aspects of yoga, practising yoga exercises your mind and spirit as well!

3. Yoga is difficult
It may seem intimidating when we see yoga practitioners doing advanced postures like crane pose (bakasana), side crow pose (parivrita kakasana) or firefly pose (titibhasana). This can cause us to think that the more advanced the pose, the better the person doing the pose is at yoga. I am definitely guilty of thinking this way in the past as well, since it’s easy to associate tough looking poses with high difficulty and hence identify someone as “good at yoga”. However, in yoga, there is no “I’m a good or bad person at yoga.” Yoga is not meant to be competitive and people who practise yoga should be focusing on their own progress. While this may sound a little selfish, finding like-minded people to accompany you on your yoga journey can make it less lonely and more cohesive. Yoga doesn’t have to be difficult as long as you don’t get discouraged by your own insecurities (easier said than done, I know). So what if you can’t do the pose today? Try again tomorrow! But remember, it’s all in the mind; mind over matter! Be happy doing what you do! 😊

How Yoga has changed me

My very first encounter with yoga happened through social media when I saw my friends practising yoga. It was a little surprising for me to see how the younger generation began this trend of incorporating yoga into their lives because I had this pre-conceived idea that yoga is normally practised by the older generation. I did not think much of it and just carried on with my life as normal.

It wasn’t until my mother encouraged me to explore the benefits of yoga by attending a physical class that I started to get more in touch with yoga. When I first attended a class, I did not fall in love with yoga immediately and I did not realise that I attended an intermediate level class. I was perspiring as the session was really intense and all I reaped from that class was that yoga provided a good workout. Initially, that was the main reason why I continued to attend classes. Yoga meant nothing more than a physical workout to me.

However, after some time and experience with yoga, I started to see it more than just a physical workout. I realised how superficial my view of yoga was, but I was glad that I managed to look at the bigger picture. Yoga was becoming a part of my life and I started to see beyond the physical benefits of yoga. I noticed how I felt before and after every class and found that yoga helped me feel better mentally. I was more ready to start my day and I even began to practise more on my own. Yoga unintentionally helped me develop self-discipline and willpower as well and I started feeling more grateful to be able to get more in touch with myself through practising yoga.

I have practised yoga for about a year now and it was the curiosity I had about what yoga poses meant, how to get into such poses, why we practise them and how they help us that encouraged me to sign up for a 200 hour yoga teacher training course with Tirisula Yoga. I wanted to be able to know whether my alignment for various yoga poses are correct and learn how to safely practise yoga, before being able to teach others and practise with others. I cannot wait to see the changes yoga will keep bringing me and I am excited to keep practising yoga for the rest of my yoga journey!