Tips for Reducing Stress

Does this sound like you: mind racing, trying to figure out how to meet that critical work deadline but still get to school in time to pick up a sick child and bring her to the doctor, and then going food shopping, making dinner, and getting your taxes done before you go to bed? And finally climbing into bed but unable to sleep because your heart is pounding, your neck and shoulders ache, and you keep running through worst-case scenarios in your head?

It’s easier to deal with stressful situations, and better for your health, if you can find ways to manage the stress. Yoga can help, by lengthening the breath and re-integrating your scattered mind with your body. A student of mine likes to say that she thinks of her body as a chauffeur for her head. She says that after taking my class, she feels “embodied” again..

Here’s a short “breathing break” you can try whenever you need to de-stress.

  • Sit cross-legged on the floor, or sit on a chair. Close your eyes, and focus on your body – feel your feet touching the floor, feel your buttocks on the floor or on the chair seat, feel you spine lengthening towards the ceiling, and tuck your chin, gently pulling your head backwards to the back of your neck stretches. Notice the sensations in your body.
  • Start to focus on your breath. Notice the quality of your breath: is it long, or short; smooth, or ragged; deep, or shallow? Is one part of your breath smooth and another part ragged? Is the length of the inhale equal to the length of the exhale, or are they different? Do you pause between the inhale and exhale, or between the exhale and inhale?
  • Start to deepen your inhale, and progressively lengthen your exhale, but keep it smooth: if your breath becomes forced, or ragged, back off.
  • Notice your body responding to the breath. See if you can tune into the subtle movements in your body – the chest lifting, shoulder blades tightening, abdomen pushing out as you inhale; the shoulder blades pulling apart and the abdomen contracting as you exhale. Start to enhance this movement, coordinating the movement with the breath.

Taking a break like this channels your focus to your body and breath and away from the stressors, allowing you to relax and perhaps get a fresh perspective!