Yoga is a great natural mood enhancer. My clients are always amazed how one hour makes such a difference to how they feel. Last week one of them said “I didn’t even notice the back to back traffic on the way home last week” – quite impressive for someone who commutes 90 minutes!
Of course, any kind of exercise releases hormones that help ease the stress of a bad day, but what is special about yoga is that it doesn’t only cheer you up, but it also simultaneously relaxes you. Quite a unique feat of yoga practice, and why I fell in love with it in the first place. You can stretch, tone and flex and come out blissfully calm and smiling as well. Bad day turned good day within 60 short minutes!
Fitting It In
Very often people who are seriously stressed, and feel like they are in a cycle of ‘work, work, work’, lack the concentration and additional energy to try to disconnect themselves from their day to day and do some exercise. What is unique about yoga class though is that it offers a kind of “meditation in movement” so it is much easier to move your mind away from your thoughts and calmly relax into an entirely new mindset. The focus on balance and stillness brings back your mental strength without you even trying, and before you know it that “panic” feeling you’ve held all day has magically disappeared.
As you probably know there is a pretty clear-cut connection between mind and body in yoga, that no other form of exercise or meditation can really attain on its own. Negative thoughts like doubt, self consciousness, irritation, apathy and stress can be all encompassing but as yoga is designed to bring your focus back to you (and ignore all the outside stuff for a while) you can use it not just to improve body fitness, but how you feel too. I often find that I go into class wondering about something and after class I somehow find I have made my decision already.
There are certain poses that can influence your mood more than others (watch this super cute video from Huffington Post for a quick snapshot) but overall, throughout a class, all the poses work on calming your nervous system and increasing your lung capacity, allowing more oxygen to reach all the affected parts of your body including your mind. The poses help depleted energy levels, and sluggishness as well as aiding with sleep the night after your practice. This alone is something worthy of going to class for - after all, those that have slept well are always more apt at handling stress than those that are constantly tired as well as stressed!
Most style’s of Yoga can help you overcome a stressful day but I would recommend that you steer clear of hot yoga’s and highly active yoga sessions when looking for something calming for stress reduction. You want the focus of the class to be on slowing and relaxing your para sympathetic nervous system (your rest and digest functions) rather than stimulating your sympathetic system (fight and flight functions), which actually activates more stress in the body. Something like Hatha, Yin or Kundalini would be my reco but ask your local studio what they recommend. These slower classes may feel less physically demanding but you will find the total restoration at the end of your session way outweighs any doubts.
So breathe deeply, and start Googling a class nearby!