Yoga for Stress Relief

It is an unfortunate truth that most of us will undergo periods of signficant stress at different points in our lives. Wherever this stress comes from, be it ones job, relationships, health or elsewhere, it can be tricky knowing how to relate to and deal with it in a productive and balanced manner. Quick fix solutions abound in adverts, but it can often be equally tempting to just ignore it. However, a growing body of research suggests that yoga and meditation has significant stress-reducing benefits.

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This resonates well with my own recent experience. During the course of 2014/15 I finished my Ph.D. in mathematics, probably one of the most stressful periods of time in my life so far, especially given how drawn out the process was. Not only did I need to finish, I also needed to decide what to do with my life once it was over! Throughout this period the consistency of my yoga practice became even more important: rather than skip some of my usual classes I instead ended up doing a little more than usual. The yoga gave me a space to decompress, to focus on something totally different, and let my mind unclench from the work. It also gave me inspiration for making life decisions: I firmly believe that the lessons you learn on the mat can be taken with you off the mat. As I learned to let go of bodily preconceptions on the mat, I was able to let go of other preconceptions about my life and career goals and make some tough but ultimately positive decisions.

Around December of 2014, I was particularly struggling with the decision of whether or not to stay in pure maths or transition to climate modelling, a change which seemed drastic beyond comprehension back then, immersed as I had been in my maths world for so long. Still, part of me knew that it would be the right decision, but I couldn't bring myself to actually acknowledge it. One day, in one of Emma's classes, I was moving from one posture to a very different posture, and was suddenly struck with a thought: why couldn't I let it be as easy to change work as it was to change postures? How silly to make it more difficult! Looking back, it was a real turning point for me and now, happily having transitioned, I feel very grateful for that lesson.

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So if you find yourself in a period of stress, I can heartily encourage you to keep up your practice, and be unashamed in using the classes to help yourself in whatever way feels positive! And I would recommend being really focused on the breathing. When we get anxious, the breath reflects it. If we can regain control of it, it's often the first step to calming the body, and thereafter the mind.

By Kristian

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Kristian teaches Vinyasa Yoga on Tuesdays at 17.30.

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