By Claire Diab and Dennis Boyle
Yoga has become an excellent tool in reducing the effects of stress. By incorporating the principles of yoga along with the physical movement, breathing techniques, and philosophies, you can learn how to effectively control the stress levels in your life.
Stress is an overwhelming feeling at times that can lead to depression and anxiety and may upset the balance and concentration in our daily lives. If not controlled, it can affect our mood, relationships, productivity, and life condition. Everyone responds differently to stress. Some of the general responses of stress induce physical and behavioral symptoms. Physical symptoms associated with stress include aches, pains, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness. Some of the behavioral symptoms include procrastination and avoiding activities, friends, and family. Many people eat more, or less; exhibit nervous behavior such as pacing and biting nails; and smoke or drink excessively. Finding an outlet to control these symptoms is a difficult challenge. However, you can regain your life and reduce stress levels by implementing a 30-minute daily routine of breathing and yoga.
There are several breathing techniques in yoga, but perhaps the most powerful and beneficial to relieve stress is the Sounding Breath. Brain wave studies have shown that athletes performing while practicing the Sounding Breath were able to maintain brain waves associated with a resting state. Practicing the Sounding Breath along with these few yoga poses daily will help to get your stress under control.
Sitting comfortably, with a slow and steady breath, breathe through the nostrils and gently contract the back of your throat, creating a soft and audible sound similar to the ocean. The sound is similar to a gentle snore as if you were in a deep, relaxed sleep. To learn how to create this sound, practice whispering “haaa” sound with your mouth open on both the exhalation and inhalation, or exhale out of your mouth the “haaa” sound as if you were blowing fog on eyeglasses to clean them. Feel the sensation of the breath in the back of the throat. Then close your mouth and breathe in and out through the nostrils, creating the sounding breath.
Dog and Cat Pose
Get on your hands and knees, as if you were a tabletop. Dog Pose: Inhaling through the nose, bring your chin up, your tailbone and pelvis up, and your belly toward the floor.
Cat Pose: Exhaling through the nose, round your back up like a stretching cat, tucking your chin toward your chest and the tailbone under. Continue at your own pace, inhaling Dog Pose and exhaling Cat Pose. Repeat the sequence 6 to 9 times.
- Increases spine flexibility.
- Helps relieve stiff shoulder and neck.
- Improves posture.
- Aids in digestion.
- Calms the central nervous system.
- Helps relieve stress.
- Establishes greater rib cage flexibility.
While still on your hands and knees, sit back on your heels, and rest your forehead on the mat. You can either leave your arms extended in front of you with your palms turned down or you can bring your hands to the outside of the ankles with the palms facing up. (Variations: Place a blanket behind your knees and rest your forehead on your hands.)
- Lengthens the entire spine.
- Calms and nourishes the brain.
- Helps relieve stress and fatigue.
- Relieves lower back pain.
Do not perform if you have a:
- Knee injury.
- Ankle injury.
- Head cold.
Claire Diab is an internationally recognized Yoga therapist. She is the director of the Yoga Program for the Chopra Center founded by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. David Simon. She is an adjunct professor of Asian Studies at Seton Hall University. She is the author of several books and DVDs on Yoga including “Yoga For Firefighters.”
Dennis Boyle is a retired fire director and acting chief with the West Orange (NJ) Fire Department. He was the recipient of the 1999 New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs “Fire Officer of the Year” award.