More and more, I am working with people interested in how Yoga can help them relieve stress. While a daily asana practice will certainly balance the hormones and a consistent meditation practice helps to maintain center, taking it off the mat and in to daily life can be a challenge.
One of the most powerful changes a Yoga practice can make is that it builds greater awareness in the body. Our communication with ourselves takes on a whole new conversation as we connect further inward using breath as our language. When the body begins to understand its signals are heard, the healing process can begin and we can rid our bodies of the seeds of disease that stress creates.
To carry this communication in to daily life, it helps to begin to create ritual check ins with yourself. For example, at every stop light... on the bus... during commercials... while waiting in lines... we can start to check in with our physical body (Annamaya kosha), our breath body (Pranamaya kosha), and our emotional body (Manomaya kosha). We begin by simply observing any areas of tension, discovering where we might be constricting or holding. Observe the qualities of each of these bodies. There is no need to judge. We simply study what is happening within-- the way a mother watches her child play on the playground.
Consider these initial observations a baseline assessment. After this baseline is established, invite any areas of tension to soften and release. This is especially effective with the physical and breath bodies. Tension in the emotional body can manifest stubbornly. While softening with the breath is helpful, we invite ourselves sit in whatever emotion is present. In my experience, emotions are like some misbehaving children-- offering them your attention allows them to settle.
As our awareness of stress and tension grows, we begin to recognize these sensations in their infancy. This gives us the opportunity to draw upon the tools in our Yoga tool box (pranayama, visualization, systematic tensing and releasing in the body, etc.) and fizzle the stress.