How the 8 Yoga Limbs can Help with Stress
Have you been mentally and physically drained and overwhelmed these last weeks or months?
Have you been recommended to practice yoga to help you with stress?
What I love most personally is that yoga has many different components. In the Western world we often just think of the physical practice, when we talk about yoga.
However, yoga is built on 8 limbs of which only one is the physical asana (poses) practice yet all of these limbs can help you in dealing with stress.
Below the 8 limbs and for each of them one way how you could use the practice for your own mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
1 Yamas – 5 social ethics (Ahimsa - kindness, Satya - truthfulness, Asteya - nonstealing, Brahmacharya - moderation, Aparigraha - generosity) Ahimsa and stress: when you are stressed, it is important to practice kindness, non-harm towards others and especially yourself. Watch your own thoughts, how do you talk to yourself? Be kind towards yourself as you are dealing with your struggles.
2 Niyamas – 5 personal ethics (Saucha - purity, Santosha - contentment, Tapas - austerity, Svadhyaya - selfstudy, Ishvara Pranidhana - surrender) Let’s take Tapas and how we can use it related to stress: I love the explanation that tapas is “the courage to change the things we can or a discipline to take action where we can in order to achieve change, a shift”. What action can you take today away from stress? What action can bring more calm to your situation, to the thing that causes you stress, anxiety or overwhelm?
3 Asana – physical poses In your physical yoga practice you can allow your body to express how you feel, that can be either through a strong and demanding practice or a slow, gentle yoga session. It is not so much about what poses you practice and neither about how flexible and advanced you are but how the practice manifests in your physical, mental and emotional bodies. How do you feel after your practice?
4 Pranayama – control of the breath (breathing mindfully) Your breath reflects your emotions; when you practice pranayama, you can develop how by simply changing the breathing you gain control over your emotional responses. This can be helpful especially when you are stressed.
5 Prathyahara – turning inwards (withdrawal of the senses) Withdrawing the senses means to not let the sense take over, eg. when you watch or read too much news about what is currently going on, you could get so trapped in it and build up anxiety and stress. When you learn to withdraw, you cultivate your inner peace and gain more access to respond calmly to stressful situations.
6 Dharana – concentration (focus, attention) By giving attention to all that is happening now, you stay present without allowing the little voice in your head to take over and to drag you down the rabbit hole. Knowing that you have roughly 60,000 thoughts a day with almost 59,000 of them being repeating thoughts, how many might be around stress, overwhelm or anxiety? Bringing the attention to the breath as an example, you can stay present and calm the mind.
7 Dhyana – de-concentration (meditation, observation, reflection) Meditation, sitting still to bring growth and self-reflection, allowing you to relax. Maybe you can meditate on and face what goes through your mind, the fear, the worry. Often, we find release and even solutions when we become still.
8 Samadhi – bliss, enlightenment
Here you are in absolute harmony with the Self and the universe. Pure Bliss. Pure Freedom. Pure Peace. Sometimes during yoga or a meditation you can reach that state even if only for a short moment. The more you practice the more you can be in that blissful state.
By practicing yoga, we learn how to build resilience through the nervous system and our bodies. We practice staying with discomfort, on and off the mat.
After all, remember, it is okay not to be okay.
Don’t fight stress, rather face it, acknowledge it, maybe by choosing a practice from above. Then observe how it slowly disappears. When it comes back, practice again and again, gaining more control and peace of mind over time.