By definition, yoga is a system of exercises for attaining bodily or mental control and well-being. So, by definition it would seem that practicing yoga could help relieve some of the pressures in your daily life—the pressure to perform well and receive a good evaluation. The pressure of standardized tests. The pressure of dealing with parents and so on.
Before you doubt if a series of poses with seemingly strange names (eye of the needle and the like) could really relieve stress, Julie Kiger with Portland Power Yoga says it’s important to really understand what yoga is, beyond the definition.
“It’s an hour of peace a day, and that’s mindfulness. Our mind gets overly involved in other things and that’s when stress happens. The more you do yoga you’ll be able to be more present in the moment, being mindful. So that when you’re with your kids you won’t worry about work, and when you’re at work you won’t worry about your kids. Overall yoga will help you reduce stress,” said Kiger.
An hour of peace sounds great, but what’s the secret to yoga that brings on the peace the rest of the day? Kiger says it’s all in the breathing. Who knew something so simple as the required breath we all take just to live could make such a big difference? Kiger says it’s one of the most important things about yoga, even more so than the physical benefits (you can burn up to 1,000 calories in an hour).
“Breath is one of the only bodily functions that is either completely unconscious or deliberate. When you are managing your breath, it’s a small enough task that your brain has to be completely absorbed in it, so if a thought comes up you would then choose to go back to your breath. So, the small task of counting the length of your inhale and exhale is enough to give your brain a break, reducing your overall stress,” said Kiger.
Perhaps you’re thinking—”I don’t have time to take a yoga class.” Kiger says in just 5 to 10 minutes you can de-stress at home or at work, offering this simple plan:
- Set the timer on your phone for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Close your eyes, lie on your back, put your feet up on the chair, and turn your attention to your breath. Can’t lie down? Just sit with your eyes closed.
- Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale while you count the length of your breath, 5 in and 7 out.
- Don’t do anything except breath and count until the timer goes off.
Schools in Maine and across the country are also using yoga to refocus students’ energy and create a peaceful environment where students are engaged. At Reiche Elementary in Portland, Kindergarten and 1st graders practice yoga as an enrichment activity, “For a high-poverty school, we have really happy, engaged kids, and I think it’s because we understand that kids are more than test scores. We want them to be engaged in art, in music, in more,” teacher-leader Kevin Brewster told NEA Today, during a recent school visit.
That’s the proof there’s more to yoga than the downward dog.