There is little doubt that our modern way of living is stressful. Stress is endemic in our society and is proven to be a major contributing factor to headaches, anxiety, insomnia, back pain, and even life threatening illnesses such as heart disease. Not withstanding the immense health implications of stress, for most of us being stressed out is simply not an enjoyable way to live.

Our nervous systems are constantly wired – multi-tasking between family and work, mobile phones, email, twitter and facebook, the pressure of making ends meet as living costs spiral ever upwards – the pace of our lives rarely slow down. Our society celebrates productivity and ‘doing’, rarely valuing time spent in the simplicity of just ‘being’.

While I’m not suggesting that we should completely change the way we live (though why not?), I do believe it is valuable to have a daily antidote to this onset of stressful living. From personal experience I know of no better practice than yoga and meditation – it comprehensively offers a complete set of tools to meet stress head on.

Spending just twenty or thirty minutes on a yoga mat, stretching and breathing, connecting into my body, letting go of tension and practicing the deep, beautiful art of true relaxation, can bring me back to a more grounded place, where I’m less stressed and life truly is more pleasant.

The Wisdom Found In A Breath

While many people think of yoga as just stretching and making weird shapes with your body, in reality the practices, thousands of years old, contain rich teachings which can be of immense value for us today.

For centuries yoga has explored the direct relationship between the quality of one’s  breath to the state of one’s mind. Faster, shallower breathing correlates with an agitated stressed mind, quieter slower breathing leads to a more peaceful mind.

Awareness of one’s breath is at the very heart of a quality yoga and meditation practice. Try this simple exercise – it only takes five or ten minutes:

Find a place where you can sit quietly, and allow your body to gently lengthen upwards so that you can breath easy. Close your eyes and lightly rest your awareness on your breath, the inhale, the exhale, as you breathe through your nose. Start to listen to your breath. Gradually turn your attention just to your inhale. Be fascinated by the inhale, its movement and feeling in the body, the depth of it. You may feel it naturally slowing down.

After a few minutes, observe how the inhale turns to the exhale, and begin to follow this exhale – the length of it, the feeling of it. You may notice a natural lengthening of the exhale and a quiet pause, like a still point, at the very end before you inhale again. Allow your mind to turn inward. Let go and soften your face, jaw, shoulders, your belly, and your whole body. Enjoy moments of peaceful silence.

Remember, it may only take these few minutes to pause, slow down, touch stillness and be present in this very moment – to be an effective counter-balance to a stressful day.

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