by Ellen Serber and Gwen Lawrence AND Mayo clinic

Stress is a common condition, a response to a physical threat or psychological distress, that generates a host of chemical and hormonal reactions in the body. In essence, the body prepares to fight or flee, pumping more blood to the heart and muscles and shutting down all non-essential functions. As a temporary state, this reaction serves the body well to defend itself. However, when the stress reaction is attenuated, the normal physical functions that have been either exaggerated or shut down in response become dysfunctional in this extreme state. Many have noted the benefits of exercise in diminishing the stress response.

A host of studies points to the benefits of such exercise. Yoga, too, has been recommended and studied in its relationship to stress, although the studies are less scientifically replicable. Nonetheless, several researchers claim highly beneficial results from Yoga practice in alleviating stress and its effects. The practices recommended range from intense to moderate to relaxed asana sequences, plus pranayama and meditation. In all these approaches to dealing with stress, one common element stands out: the process is as important as the activity undertaken. Because it fosters self-awareness, Yoga is a promising approach for dealing with the stress response.

Yoga’s series of postures — some with names from nature — and controlled breathing exercises are a popular means of stress management and relaxation. Today, yoga classes teaching the art of breathing, meditation and posing are offered nearly everywhere — from trendy health clubs in big cities to community education classes in small towns to hospitals and clinics. If you’re looking for more do-it-yourself techniques for stress reduction, see how to get started with yoga.

Understanding yoga

Yoga has many styles, forms and intensities. Hatha yoga, in particular, may be a good choice for stress management. Hatha is one of the most common styles of yoga, and some beginners find it easier to practice because of its slower pace and easier movements. But most people can benefit from any style of yoga — it’s all about your personal preferences.Yoga is considered a mind-body type of complementary and alternative medicine practice. Yoga brings together physical and mental disciplines to achieve peacefulness of body and mind, helping you relax and manage stress and anxiety. Traditional yoga philosophy requires that students adhere to this mission through behavior, diet and meditation. But if you’re just looking for better stress management — whether because of life’s daily hassles or a health problem you’re facing — and not an entire lifestyle change or way of life, yoga can still help.

The core components of hatha yoga and most general yoga classes are:

  • Poses. Yoga poses, also called postures, are a series of movements designed to increase strength and flexibility. Poses range from lying on the floor while completely relaxed to difficult postures that may have you stretching your physical limits.
  • Breathing. Controlling your breathing is an important part of yoga. In yoga, breath signifies your vital energy. Yoga teaches that controlling your breathing can help you control your body and quiet your mind.

The health benefits of yoga

The potential health benefits of yoga are numerous and may include:

  • Stress reduction. With its quiet, precise movements, yoga draws your focus away from your busy, chaotic day and toward calm as you move your body through poses that require balance and concentration.
  • Increased fitness. As you learn and refine new poses, you may enjoy improved balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength. And this means you’re less likely to injure yourself in other physical endeavors or in your daily activities.
  • Management of chronic health conditions. Yoga might help with a variety of health conditions, such as cancer, depression, pain, anxiety and insomnia, by helping with sleep problems, fatigue and mood. Yoga also can help reduce heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Weight loss. If you’re overweight or have binge-eating disorder, yoga may help you make the healthy lifestyle changes necessary to gain control of your eating and drop those extra pounds.

While you shouldn’t expect yoga to cure you or offer 100 percent relief, it can help some health conditions when combined with standard treatment. And if you already enjoy good health, yoga can be an enjoyable supplement to your regular fitness routine.

 

Taking precautions before starting yoga

Yoga is generally considered safe for people of all abilities, even if you use a wheelchair or you’re severely overweight. But there are some situations in which yoga might pose a risk. You may need to find an alternative to yoga or scale back your yoga poses.

See your health care provider before you begin yoga if you have any of the following conditions or situations, since complications can arise:

  • Balance problems
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Certain eye conditions, including glaucoma
  • Severe osteoporosis
  • Pregnancy
  • Artificial joints

You may be able to practice yoga in these situations if you take certain precautions, such as avoiding certain poses or stretches. Regardless of your health status, start slowly and gently. If you develop symptoms or concerns, see your doctor to make sure you’re getting benefit and not harm from yoga.


Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress

Meditation can wipe away the day’s stress, bringing with it inner peace. See how you can easily learn to practice meditation whenever you need it most.

By Mayo Clinic staff

If stress has you anxious, tense and worried, consider trying meditation. Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace.

Anyone can practice meditation. It’s simple and inexpensive, and it doesn’t require any special equipment. And you can practice meditation wherever you are — whether you’re out for a walk, riding the bus, waiting at the doctor’s office or even in the middle of a difficult business meeting.

Understanding meditation

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Meditation originally was meant to help deepen understanding of the sacred and mystical forces of life. These days, meditation is commonly used for relaxation and stress reduction.

Meditation is considered a type of mind-body complementary medicine. Meditation produces a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind. During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. This process results in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.

Benefits of meditation

Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that benefits both your emotional well-being and your overall health. And these benefits don’t end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day and can even improve certain medical conditions.

Meditation and emotional well-being
When you meditate, you clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress.

The emotional benefits of meditation include:

  • Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
  • Building skills to manage your stress
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Focusing on the present
  • Reducing negative emotions

Meditation and illness
Meditation also might be useful if you have a medical condition, especially one that may be worsened by stress. While a growing body of scientific research supports the health benefits of meditation, some researchers believe it’s not yet possible to draw conclusions about the possible benefits of meditation.

With that in mind, some research suggests that meditation may help such conditions as:

  • Allergies
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Asthma
  • Binge eating
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Substance abuse

Be sure to talk to your health care provider about the pros and cons of using meditation if you have any of these conditions or other health problems. In some cases, meditation can worsen symptoms associated with certain mental health conditions. Meditation isn’t a replacement for traditional medical treatment. But it may be a useful addition to your other treatment.

Types of meditation

Meditation is an umbrella term for the many ways to a relaxed state of being. There are many types of meditation and relaxation techniques that have meditation components. All share the same goal of achieving inner peace.

Ways to meditate can include:

  • Guided meditation. Sometimes called guided imagery or visualization, with this method of meditation you form mental images of places or situations you find relaxing. You try to use as many senses as possible, such as smells, sights, sounds and textures. You may be led through this process by a guide or teacher.
  • Mantra meditation. In this type of meditation, you silently repeat a calming word, thought or phrase to prevent distracting thoughts.
  • Mindfulness meditation. This type of meditation is based on being mindful, or having an increased awareness and acceptance of living in the present moment. You broaden your conscious awareness. You focus on what you experience during meditation, such as the flow of your breath. You can observe your thoughts and emotions but let them pass without judgment.
  • Qi gong. This practice generally combines meditation, relaxation, physical movement and breathing exercises to restore and maintain balance. Qi gong (CHEE-gung) is part of traditional Chinese medicine.
  • Tai chi. This is a form of gentle Chinese martial arts. In tai chi (TIE-chee), you perform a self-paced series of postures or movements in a slow, graceful manner while practicing deep breathing.
  • Transcendental meditation. You use a mantra, such as a word, sound or phrase repeatedly silently, to narrow your conscious awareness and eliminate all thoughts from your mind. You focus exclusively on your mantra to achieve a state of perfect stillness and consciousness.
  • Yoga. You perform a series of postures and controlled breathing exercises to promote a more flexible body and a calm mind. As you move through poses that require balance and concentration, you’re encouraged to focus less on your busy day and more on the moment.

Elements of meditation

Different types of meditation may include different features to help you meditate. These may vary depending on whose guidance you follow or who’s teaching a class. Some of the most common features in meditation include:

  • Focused attention. Focusing your attention is generally one of the most important elements of meditation. Focusing your attention is what helps free your mind from the many distractions that cause stress and worry. You can focus your attention on such things as a specific object, an image, a mantra, or even your breathing.
  • Relaxed breathing. This technique involves deep, even-paced breathing using the diaphragm muscle to expand your lungs. The purpose is to slow your breathing, take in more oxygen, and reduce the use of shoulder, neck and upper chest muscles while breathing so that you breathe more efficiently.
  • A quiet setting. If you’re a beginner, practicing meditation may be easier if you’re in a quiet spot with few distractions — no television, radios or cellphones. As you get more skilled at meditation, you may be able to do it anywhere, especially in high-stress situations where you benefit the most from meditation, such as a traffic jam, a stressful work meeting or a long line at the grocery store.
  • A comfortable position. You can practice meditation whether you’re sitting, lying down, walking or in other positions or activities. Just try to be comfortable so that you can get the most out of your meditation.

Everyday ways to practice meditation

Don’t let the thought of meditating the “right” way add to your stress. Sure, you can attend special meditation centers or group classes led by trained instructors. But you also can practice meditation easily on your own.

And you can make meditation as formal or informal as you like — whatever suits your lifestyle and situation. Some people build meditation into their daily routine. For example, they may start and end each day with an hour of meditation. But all you really need is a few minutes of quality time for meditation.

Here are some ways you can practice meditation on your own, whenever you choose:

  • Breathe deeply. This technique is good for beginners because breathing is a natural function. Focus all attention on your breathing. Concentrate on feeling and listening as you inhale and exhale through your nostrils. Breathe deeply and slowly. When your attention wanders, gently return your focus to your breathing.
  • Scan your body. When using this technique, focus attention on different parts of your body. Become aware of your body’s various sensations, whether that’s pain, tension, warmth or relaxation. Combine body scanning with breathing exercises and imagine breathing heat or relaxation into and out of different parts of your body.
  • Repeat a mantra. You can create your own mantra, whether it’s religious or secular. Examples of religious mantras include the Jesus Prayer in the Christian tradition, the holy name of God in Judaism, or the om mantra of Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern religions.
  • Walk and meditate. Combining a walk with meditation is an efficient and healthy way to relax. You can use this technique anywhere you’re walking — in a tranquil forest, on a city sidewalk or at the mall. When you use this method, slow down the pace of walking so that you can focus on each movement of your legs or feet. Don’t focus on a particular destination. Concentrate on your legs and feet, repeating action words in your mind such as lifting, moving and placing as you lift each foot, move your leg forward and place your foot on the ground.
  • Engage in prayer. Prayer is the best known and most widely practiced example of meditation. Spoken and written prayers are found in most faith traditions. You can pray using your own words or read prayers written by others. Check the self-help or 12-step-recovery section of your local bookstore for examples. Talk with your rabbi, priest, pastor or other spiritual leader about resources.
  • Read and reflect. Many people report that they benefit from reading poems or sacred texts, and taking a few moments to quietly reflect on their meaning. You also can listen to sacred music, spoken words or any music you find relaxing or inspiring. You may want to write your reflections in a journal or discuss them with a friend or spiritual leader.
  • Focus your love and gratitude. In this type of meditation, you focus your attention on a sacred object or being, weaving feelings of love and gratitude into your thoughts. You can also close your eyes and use your imagination or gaze at representations of the object.

Building your meditation skills

Don’t judge your meditation skills, which may only increase your stress. Meditation takes practice. Keep in mind, for instance, that it’s common for your mind to wander during meditation, no matter how long you’ve been practicing meditation. If you’re meditating to calm your mind and your attention wanders, slowly return to the object, sensation or movement you’re focusing on.

Experiment, and you’ll likely find out what types of meditation work best for you and what you enjoy doing. Adapt meditation to your needs at the moment. Remember, there’s no right way or wrong way to meditate. What matters is that meditation helps you with stress reduction and feeling better overall.

Poses by gwen:

TWISTS: DISPLACE ANGER, ALIGN SPINE

ARM FLAPS: BRING HEAT

SEATED OR STANDING FORWARDBEND: PROMOTES CALM AND BREATH

BACK BENDS OR BRIDGE: OPENS LUNGS AND ANTERIOR SPINE

KNEES INTO CHEST ROCK AND ROLL

HEADSTAND: BRINGS BLOOD TO BRAIN, CHANGES YOUR PERSPECTIVE, CLEARS THE LYMPH, FLUSHES TOXINS

PLOW: TAPS GLANDS ESPECIALLY THYROID

SHOULDERSTAND: CALMING POSE

HEAVY LEGS: PROMOTES LYMPH DRAINAGE AND LIGHTENS HEAVY CEMENT FEELING LEGS

CORPSE POSE: PURE RELAXATION AND SET UP FOR MEDITATION…….WARM HANDS AND EYE RELEASE

ALTERNATE NOSTRIL BREATH: BALANCES LEFT BRAIN RIGHT BRAIN

Kundalini routine do all poses/moves 1-3 minutes

Seated twist

Arm up and downs seated

Opposite arm opposite leg

Windshield wipers laying on back

Fetal rock and rolls

Standing forward bend

Standing trunk twists with arms shoulder height

Standing straddle up and downs Jeannie arms (hammie killer)

Standing arm flaps

Standing wirst flaps

Hero

Pigeon

Frog

Headstand

Shoulderstand/plow