There’s no doubt that stress is capable of some pretty complex stuff. And, there’s even less doubt that allowing yourself a moment to breathe consciously can help zap away some of the anxiety it brings. This article is not going to wave kaput to stress completely (if only), rather it will explore the ancient meditative practice of Vinyasa Yoga, and consider how it can be used effectively as a natural, stress-relieving solution.
Along with Bikram, Vinyasa is one of the more physical yoga systems, and swings towards Yin’s less chilled-out counterpart, Yang. In Vinyasa, you hold deep postures that find coordination and fluidity in breath. Using deep muscular effort, each student is encouraged to monitor their own breath, and use it to link each asana (posture). Together, the asanas merge into a formative set of movements, that enable your body (and mind) to begin to safely open.
To get some more information on the benefits of Vinyasa, we spoke to Carol, an experienced instructor and founder of The Yoga Body.
“I always say that every single body out there, is a yoga body. The dynamic, core strengthening flows that come with Ashtanga Vinyasa, encourage mental and physical balance in their stillness and fluidity. I want everyone to experience this.”
Like us, Carol believes this symbiotic mind-body connection can be beneficial on so many levels: “Research has linked regular yoga practise to improved cardiovascular health, lower stress levels, a reduction in PMS symptoms and back pain.” But, it doesn’t stop there: “It’s also great for promoting body confidence along with improved mental health.”
Here, Carol describes her approach to Vinyasa, and explains how it can help you to manage stress-levels and achieve a sense of calm beyond the mat.
It encourages the body and mind to work together
Ashtanga Vinyasa aims to purify the body and mind, and it does so by following four key elements: Vinyasa, Pranayama, Bandhas and Dristi. Don’t panic, they really aren’t as scary or as impossible as they sound.
Vinyasa has various meanings. In short, it is the connection of breath with a physical movement that encourages fluidity between each posture.
Pranayama is a direct reference to breath throughout the practice. I often tell my students to remember to connect with this throughout the practice.
Bandhas means ‘energy locks’. Ashtanga Vinyasa encourages different parts of the body to engage throughout the practice to tone, create heat and help maintain a clearer mind.
Dristi is the ‘focal point’. The area to gaze at and find balance, direction and clarity.”
It’s a repetitive physical sequence that leads to strength and stillness
“Most people start their yoga journey on the mat, and practice a sequence of postures. The postures stay the same, it is our flexibility and strength that increases week-on-week. By developing that strength and finding stability, the mind begins to slow down, allowing us to reach a meditative state.
“Personally, I found the regimented primary series encouraged this to happen for me. Following the same postures I found it easier to connect with my breath, this along with the physicalities of class - I mean you’re using your whole body - lead towards some amazing benefits such as improved sleeping patterns, agile joints, flexibility and a calmer mind (off the mat too).”
It can curb PMS, PMDD and other menstrual anxieties
“As someone who struggles EVERY month with PMDD, I can safely say that regular yoga practice can help with this. Ashtanga Vinyasa is a strong, physical practice which a lot of women find incredibly helpful in the days and weeks before their period, because it encourages the body to release lots of feel-good endorphins, whilst focusing on breath and therefore gives the mind the rest and recuperation it needs before your period kicks in. During my PMDD stage, I will opt for a gentle routine to relieve the cramps - like child’s pose, below. I also appreciate every moment of my savasana (lie down).”
It gives you a set of coping solutions
“One of the things I encourage my students to do in class is to withdraw the senses and to connect the breath. This gives the mind full permission to let go of wandering thoughts and external sounds, and to focus on the breath and the body. This doesn’t stop when you leave the mat, yoga doesn’t stop when you leave the mat. The tools and techniques you learn from the practise soon spill over onto your everyday life, at work, at home, with friends, with family - it can become a fast-acting mechanism to establish calm in situations that are not. Before I discovered yoga, my mind was chaotic and I lacked direction. I felt like the way to help me unwind and relax was to go on as many holidays as I could, or just party every weekend. Neither of which actually helped and mostly left me back at square one once the hangover had gone! Try taking ten minutes out of your day to just sit, breath and withdraw the senses - the benefits will be long-lasting.”
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