Handling Christmas Stress

It's Christmas and life is frenzied. Between Christmas shopping, school concerts, awards nights, end of year ballet performances, work Christmas parties, etc it is hard to find some quiet time.

As I write this I have just come from teaching the before work class. Earlier in the week we did active classes, and there is certainly a place for a bit of hard work and sweat in yoga, but the focus for today was restorative. It was a class with minimal instruction, lots of support from blankets and bolsters, and lots of just being in your own head space in a quiet, open position.

It's interesting how after a class like that I can pretty much guarantee that someone will say they really "needed" that. It's interesting too that a large number of students when booking for yoga class will say that they experience some level of anxiety and/or depression. Chronic stress is almost the norm in Australia in 2016 - and anxiety and depression are quite natural responses to stress, quite apart from any pre-existing mental health condition.

Yoga can offer an antidote to the busyness of life. There are some obvious reasons for this.

• Yoga gets us moving. Any form of exercise can help as part of a stress management plan or mental health plan.

• We stablise. We learn to stand - really stand - in our feet.

• We open our chests! Consider the psychological impact of the two presentations below.

But there are some deeper ways in which yoga works too.

We learn to stay with the sensations we experience. I well remember when I began yoga and discovered that twists made me angry. I would quite literally be hating the teacher while I was in the pose. But I learnt that a) that sensation passed as soon as I was out of the pose, and b) I didn't need to react. I could stay in the pose and just have the experience.

We learn to differentiate between "good pain" and "bad pain". Bad pain is not a sensation to stay with. Good pain opens pathways - physical, physiological and emotional - and allows us to learn ways of coping with sensation - physical, physiological and emotional. We learn to delay our reactions, and gain control over our responses. The distinction between good pain and bad pain is worth looking at more closely. By being able to discern the difference, we are honouring the truth about ourselves: this I can do and I experience a strong sensation, but this is damaging. There are parallels in day to day living. A Christmas stint of working extended trading hours might be something you can handle and perhaps there are benefits - extra income, holidays that follow, feeling good that you've done your bit at work. But long hours as the norm might be something that needs addressing.

To make the call as to what we can handle and what's too much, we need a deep understanding of ourselves. And we practise that understanding in every yoga class.


Further Reading

For more on good pain and bad pain, see Light on Life by BKS Iyengar.

At the studio we have sequences for anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia and others. Ask us if you are interested.

Some studies on yoga for anxiety, depression and mood: http://www.ctcpjournal.com/article/S1744-3881(09)00004-8/abstract http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165032705002570 http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2010.0007 http://iaytjournals.org/doi/abs/10.17761/ijyt.14.1.t7427823p2478255

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