Feeling stressed? We sent one writer on a quest to find out how yoga can help you relax in just two hours. 

The method

By now you’ve definitely heard of yoga. According to Allannah Law, a yoga teacher and therapist from Yoga Yin in Melbourne, the purpose of this ancient Indian practice is to “unite body, mind and spirit”. According to Law, yoga isn’t just about striking a pose. Rather, the physical practice of yoga is “just a tool to get you into a space where you can feel calm…and eventually to get you to meditation.” She says it works so well because it seeks to find a balance within the nervous systems.

So instead of switching on your sympathetic nervous system (that one that makes you want to either fight or flee), it activates your parasympathetic system. “So it just brings you back to that sense of calmness," says Law.

The road test

I arrive late for the yoga class after a hectic day. Delik, the lithe, tanned teacher, sits serenely at the front, instructing everyone to close their eyes and focus on their breathing. I slip into the back row and do my best to calm my mind, but it’s racing. Relax, I tell myself more than once. Not surprisingly, silently screaming at yourself is not conducive to relaxation.

Next we begin the active part of the class. Within a few poses I start to feel calmer. Concentrating on things like flexing my feet when needed or reaching my arms towards the sky helps me unwind. I begin to forget about my day and ease into the quiet, natural rhythm of the class, soothed by the sounds of quiet chanting. Also, the poses begin to really ache after a while, which helps keep me focused.

By the end of the session I’m more than ready to lie down for the final relaxation. I follow the progressive muscle relaxation, letting go of all the tension from my scalp to my toes, body part by body part. By the time I roll up my yoga mat, I’m surprised to notice how calm I feel.

The verdict

While it can take time to get into if you haven’t done much yoga before, a two-hour yoga session is a good way to unwind. I imagine that if you did it regularly you would reap more benefits. 

Author: Dr Evelyn Lewin

NEXT: Breathing techniques to reduce stress