While we all know that yoga can help with our body confidence and flexibility, it’s also a brilliant way to relieve stress. Carolyn Cowan of Triyoga explains how a combination of breathing and posture exercises can transform your perspective
Yoga is often billed as a way to keep fit and improve your flexibility, but what is less talked about is its ability to combat stress. We all experience moments where we’d like to stop the world and get off. But for brides and grooms, it can become a real problem, especially in the run up to the wedding day when planning decisions collide with full-time, full-on career. While we all know the colour of the napkins, order of speeches or the motif on the favours is a ‘first world problem’, even something small can trigger an emotional meltdown where we feel as if we are losing the plot.
“With yoga, you have the power to change how you feel, and can take away techniques to use any time”
In fact, it usually is the small trigger points that overwhelm us. As Carolyn Cowan puts it: “It’s not the elephants that get you, it’s the mice”. She teaches Kundalini yoga at Triyoga’s Chelsea centre, combining this with her private practice as a relationship therapist. She believes that yoga is a powerful antidote to stress, helping to alleviate its multiple symptoms through an effective combination of posture and controlled breathing.
Carolyn says it’s the side effects of stress that can be a real problem, because the physical manifestations – fear, anxiety – build up to the point where we can no longer function. She says: “Think about the last time you got really anxious and stressed. What happened was that you reverted to a child-like state – upset and unable to even think things through rationally”.
While we’ve all been there or somewhere nearby, it’s worth knowing that the physical cause of this is our body contracting because of anxiety. This in turn sets up a ribbon of effects via our central nervous system, including a tight throat and often feelings of tension or pain in our stomach, also shutting down our ability to think clearly. Long-term and unmanaged, the effects of stress can be more serious, causing everything from digestive issues to sleep disorders and skin problems.
At Carolyn’s Kundalini yoga classes, everyone is welcome. She dispels the notion that this is a class for the super-fit, the beautifully co-ordinated or the impossibly limber. “We welcome all sorts of people – all sizes, all ages – it’s a gentle class”.
Using a combination of breathing techniques (pranayama), posture and meditation can have a powerful effect. Even the initial warm-up exercises work their magic. A combination of deep stretches to release core muscles, and deep breathing to open up and relax tension then help to release serotonin, endorphins and dopamine – the powerful trinity of feelgood chemicals capable of improving our mood and overall wellbeing. Carolyn says that at the end of the warm up everyone is in neutral, rather than tense and stressed, and then they can enjoy and benefit from the rest of the yoga session.
The proof of the success of this technique is in the size and regular attendance at classes – attendees have ranged in age from eight to 86. As Carolyn says: “I’ve had people come up to me after the class and tell me how good it felt, and that they didn’t know they could feel that way”.
While classes typically last 90 minutes, the takeaways are a series of stretches and breathing exercises that can be tried out at home or work if things are getting on top of you. Carolyn says: “Rather than wallpapering other people with our stress, we can manage it. Yoga helps release tension, and it’s wonderful to discover that you have the power to change how you feel.”
Yoga classes at Triyoga
Triyoga has five centres in London, yoga, pilates, barre and meditation classes; triyoga.co.uk; Carolyn Cowan teaches here, as well as running her own therapy practice in Chelsea. Find out more at carolyncowan.com