“You should try yoga — it’s meant to be good for stress.”
This has become the generic advice of doctors, the media and friends alike, but it’s not quite so simple. You can’t necessarily just rock up to a local yoga class and expect to be bestowed an inoculation to stress.
Yes, yoga is intended to alleviate stress through regulating the nervous system, releasing physical tension, and ushering you into the present moment through connection to the body and breath. But yoga is a vast, complex and multi-layered tradition, so a little knowledge about what you’re looking for is crucial.
I hear all the time of people who have felt more stressed in a yoga class than they were before entering. They feel awkward, self-conscious, bored, frustrated. Whether it’s the music, the elaborate cues, the physical challenge, or being uncomfortable in stillness, there are so many triggers that can actually provoke stress and anxiety in a yoga practice — quite the opposite to the intended effect!
Getting the results you want all comes down to understanding what your individual nervous system needs to shift from a state of stress to a state of calm. Luckily, there are many different styles and approaches to yoga, so you simply need to explore these various potential medicines.
No single style of yoga can be said to be the best for stress, because everyone requires a different kind of intervention. Some people need to move, to sweat, to burn off stress hormones and discharge anxious energy. Others need to slow down, rest, release their worries by surrendering. Some need slow movement or gentle stimulation; others need complete stillness and silence to reset.
So how do you know what you need? Well, exploring what’s on offer is key. Nothing replaces stepping into a practice to observe how it feels in your body — and if you’ve been struggling with stress or anxiety, chances are you’re currently somewhat out of touch with the nuances of what your body and mind are craving.
As a starting point, here’s an introductory guide to the most popular styles and how to approach them for healing.