“My back hurts.” “I can’t sleep.” “I cry.” “I smoke.” “I can’t focus.” “I grind my teeth.” “I get depressed.” “I freak out at my kids.” “I am tired all the time.” “I feel like I can’t breath.” “My shoulders and neck are tense.” “My stomach hurts.”
These are some of the responses that students in my Exercise and Stress Management class at HACC would give me when I asked them how they felt when they were “stressed.” I am sure we can all identify with some of these symptoms, and probably could add to the list.
When we feel stressed, a whole series of physiological responses are triggered, known as the fight or flight response, or stress response. If this response were triggered because we needed to flee an attacking bear, then the stress hormones would be dissipated. But, for the most part, in modern life, we are not fleeing an immediate threat to our life. Instead we face overwhelming, never-ending lists of responsibilities and obligations, the challenge of finding, keeping, or losing a job, abusive situations, illness, worries about the future, and on and on.
No matter the cause, the HACC students in my Stress Management class had one thing in common: they were suffering – they felt as if they had no space. Whatever they perceived as stress was closing in on them.
Think about it for a minute. When we are on vacation or feeling relaxed, just enjoying ourselves, we feel a sense of spaciousness. We are not holding tension in our body, our breathing feels easy, worries are not roosting in our mind, and we may even experience contentment. This “easiness” is what I mean when I say “spaciousness.”
One of the goals of yoga is to come to a place of spaciousness in our bodies, breath, minds, and emotions. The most common observation my yoga students make at the end of class, is that they feel calm, balanced, peaceful. Some degree of spaciousness has returned to them as a result of the practice they did.
An appropriate yoga practice done regularly and over time can help us create space within ourselves and our lives. Because we have a greater sense of spaciousness we grow to see the stresses in our lives more clearly. That clarity helps us to make better decisions. Our physiological response to the stress we experience is lower. We become more stress-hardy.