Imagine learning not only how to relieve stress, but also how to cope with it effectively, and even how to prevent stressful reactions from being a cause suffering for you or for others. That is the subject matter we addressed in the recent teacher training we did at the New York Integral Yoga Institute. We taught 20 Yoga teachers to bring the full scope of Yoga practice and its teachings, reframed as stress management, into institutional settings like corporations and hospitals, where the participants are not familiar with the culture of Yoga studios.
The deep wisdom that Yoga brings to human stress and suffering helps us understand that stress begins in the mind, with how we interpret events. For example, one person may see a difficult situation as a real threat, while another person sees that same activity as an exciting challenge to be met.
The more threatened we feel, the more our whole system responds with what is commonly called the fight or flight response, and for some people, the stress of a relentless schedule—from one thing to the next– never lets up. Even the ways that many people relax by watching TV or filling their lives with entertainment don’t really allow their bodies and minds to calm down, and the nervous system to come into rest and restore mode.
During the training, we discussed how mindful stretching, relaxation, deep breathing and meditation can quickly interrupt that cycle of overstimulation and restore physical and mental balance. These same practices done regularly, even for a short time daily, can create a deeply rooted sense of inner steadiness that enables us to withstand life’s frequent trials.
As we cultivate internal steadiness, we also develop the present moment awareness needed to make conscious choices when crisis arise, instead of reacting compulsively in ways we later regret. Regular practice equips us with tools that help us keep our balance, reflect with clarity and think creatively.
We also studied how all the branches of Yoga philosophy can be reframed into clear, simple principles that provide another resource in stressful moments. We each identified the constructive attitudes that counteract our negative thought patterns and can help us sustain a clear positive mindset, so that we can more effectively cope with poise and resilience.
Some of my favorite examples are: “Do your best, leave the rest.”; “My efforts are both optimal and sustainable when I value my goals in balance with my own well-being.”; “I do all actions for the joy of doing. I’m not depending on the results. I’m finding the fun in this moment.”
It was fulfilling to think that these 20 teachers will each be sharing these practices and teachings with many diverse populations, offering them all the tools of Yoga that can relieve so much of the suffering caused by our stressed-out culture.