Yoga and Stress

A few days ago I woke up with an odd, painful feeling in my stomach, which is unusual for me. What is this? I zoomed in on the sensation and watched and felt. This is stress!  What do I have to be stressed about?  As soon as I asked the question I almost started laughing. For one thing, my husband is being transferred to Houston next year. We don’t want to go to Houston, but living off of my yoga earnings would require moving into a tent and foraging for food, which isn’t very appealing at our age, so we’re kind of stuck unless a winning lottery ticket or some other miracle comes through.

Secondly, we have to start thinking about selling our house. This means getting rid of stuff, repairing stuff, and even doing some expensive renovations which weren’t in the budget.

Thirdly, I have a lot of good friends here and a wonderful yoga sangha that took years to build and gel into the beautiful thing that it is. Last week we had dinner with a group of people that I’ve been friends with for 25 years. We laughed all night long. And last night after yoga, several people in the class migrated to a local restaurant. Again, laughing all night. I’m going to miss all of these Joyful Hearts in my life. I have to give up my classes, and I don’t know how things will go when I move. I don’t know one soul in Houston. What’s that going to be like?

Fourthly, when we googled the weather in Houston we got this: extreme humidity, flooding, supercell thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and tropical cyclones. Hmmm. Sounds like we’re getting transferred to hell.

Finally, my husband and I are handling this situation differently. I want to talk about this move and have a detailed plan, and my husband doesn’t want to talk about it. This is making it more stressful for me.

So, that’s what I have to be stressed about. It’s a lot. Even though I practice what I preach, I’m not immune to stress. I thought I was handling this all very well and taking things day by day, but I guess it started building up and eventually took up residence in my stomach. That’s what happens — our emotional upsets often take up space somewhere in the body. The benefit of yoga is that we can become so attuned to our bodies that we notice these things before they get out of hand. If I wasn’t a yogi I might have simply taken an antacid and went about my life completely unaware until the stomach problems got so bad that I ended up in a cycle of doctors and medication, all the while having no clue that my body was being affected by my emotions. Instead, once I realized that I was overwhelmed by stress and what was causing it, I employed some yoga tactics.

First, I sat up in bed to meditate. I noticed my thoughts, which were racing around complaining about the moving and the unfairness and blah blah blah. A daily practice of yoga will tame and quiet the mind so that it’s usually peaceful in there, but at any opportunity the mind and ego will try to sneak in and take over. This reminds me of our animal friends. A pet dog will decide that you’re the boss, and that’s it — for the rest of your relationship, you’re the boss. But a parrot will think, “OK. You’re the boss today,” but will constantly look for opportunities to usurp your role and take charge. The mind is like a parrot. In addition to a lot of noise and jumping around, the mind will twist the truth. “My boss is out to get me” … “If he loved me he would do what I want.” … “She thinks she’s better than me.” … “No one cares about me.”  “I never get a break.” … This kind of thinking separates you from others, rather than connecting you to others, and it keeps the ego on top, where it wants to be. “No one understands me.” … “I have to do everything myself.”  The mindfulness cultivated by a regular yoga practice can tease out the threads of truth from the lies so you can deal with what’s really happening without getting derailed by twisted thinking.

After noticing my thoughts, I directed my attention outward, a few inches from my forehead. This moved my attention away from noisy thoughts to a quiet spaciousness. I kept my attention there, with no straining or tension, just softness. I was aware of thoughts flitting by, but I didn’t latch on to them or chase them down. As I tell my students, what your mind is doing is none of your business. After awhile I was relaxed enough to go back to sleep.

When I woke up I knew that I needed to do a physical practice to help move the stress out of my body. I did a lot of kapalabhati and bastrika breath, which are great for clearing out, then I did a practice that included a lot of twists. I felt that I was wringing the tension out of my body. I ended with meditation, and afterward I can honestly say that I felt more clear and that I had re-set my mind and body and was now able to move forward and deal with this big upcoming change from a clean slate. And my stomach was no longer hurting. I am sure I will feel more stress as this situation evolves, but at least I have tools to help me handle it.

Now I’ve been doing yoga almost every day for 15 years, so I get results pretty quickly. If you’re new to yoga and meditation, it takes time and practice, so stay with it. The results are definitely worth it. I wish everyone had these coping skills. It’s would make a huge difference in the world.

6 thoughts on “Yoga and Stress

  1. Beth

    What a wonderful and helpful article! Thank you, Sandy. My favorite quote, “… what your mind is doing is none of your business.” Beth

  2. Sandy Pradas Post author

    Thanks! I like that the blog gives me a chance to combine writing with yoga, travel, and healthy living topics.

  3. Asun

    Sandy, I Read your article. Very well stated. Liked it very much.You are a great professional, and I am sure you and your husband will find a positive solution to your situation. I also do yoga every other day. It is part of my routine, now. It helps me face the new day with optimism. Cheers

    1. Sandy Pradas Post author

      Thank you! I am so glad to hear that you like yoga so much. I don’t know how people get through life without it!

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