I recently heard my teacher say, “there is no such thing as stress.” What!? No such thing as stress? How can she deny the wealth of scientific evidence that links stress to a person’s health? Stress is strongly associated with a baziillion devastating conditions – depression, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, obesity, hair loss, skin disorders, weakened immune system, thyroid dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, gastrointestinal disorders, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer! – just to name a few. I started to think my teacher was seriously losing it until she explained what she meant. Stress is not something that happens to us, but rather it is something we do to ourselves. The way we choose to perceive the situation determines the affect that it will have on us. Hmmm… that actually makes sense. Stress doesn’t creep up on you like a poisonous spider while you’re sleeping. It’s something we create!
In yoga we often talk about letting go and surrendering. Unless you have some sort of magical powers, the events that happen around you are totally out of your control. However, you gain an incredible amount of power by just accepting this lack of control. Stress happens when we resist what has already happened or when we allow ourselves to worry about what may or may not happen in the future. We become totally liberated when we simple let go. Let go of resistance to how things are. Let go of all expectations. Relax your shoulders and the muscles in your face. Ahhh… much better.
A stress-free life– sounds too good to be true? We also learn by practicing yoga that balance is key. Some stress is necessary and beneficial for our wellbeing. Without any stress, we would be totally apathetic, have no motivation or determination, and never feel a sense of accomplishment. The goal is to cultivate a balance between effort and ease – an extremely common phrase repeated by yoga teachers, but it is indispensable advice.
Think about waiting for the train at the Metro, especially during the times of dreaded “Scheduled Track Maintenance.” If you, like me, have a tendency to start panicking, anxiously pacing, and worrying that you will be late for your appointment, you are causing undue havoc for your mind and body. You might notice that your body temperature is rising; your heart is beating so fast it might pop out of your chest; you are sweating, breathing shallowly in your upper chest, or maybe not breathing at all… It’s amazing how subtle changes in our thoughts and breath can have such dramatic effects on our emotional and physical states. A healthier approach in this situation is just to breath (deep inhales and slow and complete exhales), relax your mind, and maybe even meditate. Because lets face it – by stressing out, will we make the train arrive any sooner? Absolutely not. Rather, conserve your energy for when the train drops you off at your destination, and run like crazy up that escalator! You can thank your yoga teacher later for holding you in Utkatasana for so long last week, building up those amazingly strong leg muscles.