Is your yoga class stressing you out? 

The other day a client revealed to me that she thought her yoga classes were stressing her out. To add even more to the stressful feelings, she had spiraled into an internal conversation that marked her as fundamentally flawed because she was potentially the only human on the planet who was not finding peace and relaxation on her yoga mat. Mayday! This called for a serious perspective check! We started off with a basic definition of yoga and rounded out to a basic understanding of how stress is activated or relieved in the body... all of which follows here:

What is Yoga?

True yoga is not necessarily something you do, it is something you become...

yogameditationUnfortunately, the typical representation of yoga in pop culture mainstream is that yoga is something you do. Not only is it something you do but being a form of fitness, it must also be something that you do to keep fit. In a sense this is true. Many forms of yoga can be quite rigorous and very empowering. However, yoga is not just the sum total of the postures (called Asanas) you do in a class. The postures are one avenue that allow or encourage connection with your body, mind, and spirit. The word Yoga, comes from the word 'yuj' which means to join or unite. Yoga is a personal discipline that is practiced with the intention of uniting the inner universe with the outer universe.

Yoga asanas practiced without attention to the breath, without attention to our current state of being, can most definitely end up being stressful.

Types of Yoga

There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth... ~Rumi

yogaThere are many styles and types of yoga and really which one is best for you comes from what you want to get out of it. That being said, regardless of the "path" you choose; whether Ashtanga, Raja, Bhakti, or Bikram, it is important to understand that even within that path there are different types of yoga to meet the different needs of your bodymind. It's not always appropriate to do the same practice with the same amount of rigor every single day. It is valuable to understand the needs of your body and the intention of your practice so they come together in a way that does indeed help you manage or eliminate stress as well as unite with your inner and outer universe.

slowyogaThe important thing about Yoga, no matter what kind you choose, is that it should always begin with your breath and feeling centered. These are things you can practice wherever you are, in any moment. This is how you can take your yoga off the mat and also how you can help identify what your needs are in any given moment; including what type of asanas would best serve you.

Power yoga is awesome for the days you feel centered and have great energy. Flow yoga is awesome for helping you keep everything flexible and strong. To me the most underestimated yoga of them all is Restorative yoga.

Yoga and your Nervous System

Know your body

exhaustedDuring our perspective check, my client shared that she was doing Bikram Yoga (Hot yoga) five times a week for 90 minutes each time. For some people this schedule would be completely appropriate. For my client, this schedule was 100% overkill. Her adrenal system was already shot just from her daily schedule and then she was adding a rigorous and exhausting class on top of it. No wonder it was stressing her out! I encouraged her to shift gears and try restorative yoga for a while just so her body could recalibrate.

stressresponseYoga is indeed an amazing way to manage and eliminate stress. The trick is knowing what kind and how...but most importantly the trick is learning to listen to your own body. If you are already maxed out from a stressful and fast paced lifestyle, then pushing yourself through a fast paced yoga class (holding your breath half the time because the poses are too challenging) then welcome to the world of stress added to stress.

If you are trying to use yoga to manage your stress levels, then you will need to choose a form of yoga that allows you to focus on your breath and the balance of breathing with your poses. The way you breathe is directly tied to the balance of your nervous system. Your nervous system is the thing that manages all the functions of your body, including immune, digestive, and cognitive.

restorativeyogaIf you have an imbalanced nervous system then you by default will have imbalanced immune function, suffer from cognitive issues (short term memory, focus, etc), and digestive issues. It's how we are designed.

That means on some days you will need to choose restorative yoga and just allow your breath to flow and your body to open and recalibrate. You are not a wimp if you opt out of the power class and step over to the restorative class for an evening or two. In fact, you are practicing yoga as it is meant to be practiced and you are building your health in ways you can't imagine.