Health & Wellbeing

Yoga: The Power & Benefits to De-stressing

Bri Porter discusses a pivotal way to destress for Uni students through the ancient practice of yoga.

Walking into the yoga studio for the first time has a feeling unlike any other. The smell of sage and soy candles, colourful yoga mats placed firmly on the floor, the calming meditation music that flows softly through the room, the sense of serenity as you are welcomed with open arms into a warm, home-feeling environment… but most of all the excitement of wondering what you will discover about yourself on your yoga journey that day. Once your feet cross the threshold of the studio, your stress is left at the door and the only thing left that matters is your focus on your practice.

There are so many wonderful moments in this world; watching your favourite show on Netflix, patting a puppy at the park, or (my personal favourite) the moment that first sip of coffee touches your lips in the morning. While there are always going to be these joyous aspects of life, there are always going to be certain times throughout our lives that cause us to stress… It’s what we do to take care of ourselves during these trying times that makes all the difference. For some people, self-love can be in the form of listening to music or going for a surf – for others it is attending a yoga class where your mind and body can refocus on taking care of itself.

Mascha Coetzee in anjaneyasana (back-bending variation). Image courtesy of Coetzee

Mascha Coetzee, image courtesy of Coetzee

There is no denying that being a student is stressful. The weekly deadlines, quizzes, the course readings you always say you’ve read but never got around to, exam period and not to mention life outside of being a student can be just as stressful too. An effective way to tackle that stress is going to a yoga class where your stresses are left at the door. Contrary to popular belief, yoga isn’t just for flexible hippies who post pictures of their açai bowls on their daily Insta feed; yoga is good for the soul and everyone has the ability to experience the healing power it possesses.

The National Union of Students conducted a survey amongst thousands of students focusing on the mental health of Australia’s tertiary students, aged 17 to 25. From the results, an alarming 83.2% of students reported feeling stressed. Followed by 79% of students reported feeling anxiety impacting their study. National Union of Students welfare officer Jill Molley said in an interview with Headspace there were a number of challenges that affect student’s mental health and well-being. “Workload, looming deadlines, relationship problems. Financial difficulties, drug and alcohol use,” she stated.

Mascha Coetzee courtesy of Mascha Coetzee

Mascha Coetzee, image courtesy of Coetzee

Yoga teacher, health coach and wellness writer Mascha Coetzee, discovered her passion for yoga more than 13 years ago after suffering from various health issues.

“I also suffered from migraines and fatigue, my immune system was weakened, my hormones were out of balance, and I had digestive issues, too,” she said.

Coetzee was able to overcome this by integrating a holistic lifestyle of yoga practice and through the help of her yoga teachers.  “Yoga has helped me look deep within, improve my health and rid of the conditions I was suffering from by strengthening and cleansing my physical body and the mind,” she said.

Through her experience as a yoga student, Mascha discovered the de-stressing and healing qualities of the yoga practice which is what drove her to pursue teaching.

“I know that each and absolutely every person in the world can benefit from practicing yoga physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”

Yoga’s integration of meditation and breathing exercises can help improve a person’s overall outlook on life and mental wellbeing. It elevates sensations of peace, assisting in mental clarity, calmness and new perspectives. Yoga relaxes not only the body, but the mind as they work as one.

Yoga is an ancient practice that brings together the mind and body, with a central focus of mindfulness. Mindfulness is being present in the given moment, paying attention to thoughts, feelings and sensations that arise in your mind but acting with a gentle and nurturing lens towards yourself. It also acknowledges all of those thoughts, feelings and sensations without judgement or negativity. When we practice mindfulness, we are completely aware and focusing on the present moment, rather than fixating on the past or future.

Coetzee describes the various benefits of the integration of breath work and mindfulness in a yoga practice.

“It now has been well-documented that by consciously activating the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) (our “rest and digest” response) by practicing yoga and integrating breath work (pranayama) and mindfulness into our practices produces positive effect on our brains and bodies, manifesting in lowered stress levels, uplifted mood, faster healing, reduced fatigue, decreased anxiety, enhanced clarity and focus of the mind, and the feeling of ease and relaxation,” said Coetzee.

A 2020 study conducted by researchers at New York University Grossman School of Medicine randomly assigned 226 adults diagnosed with general anxiety disorder (GAD) to one of three study groups. The aim of the study was to determine whether yoga is as effective as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in comparison to a stress education group. After the 12-week intervention, results showed that yoga significantly reduces GAD in adults. Both yoga and CBT groups were more effective than the stress education group. 54% of those who practiced yoga met criteria for experiencing significantly improved symptoms compared to 33% in the stress education group. This study builds a science to suggest that the practice of yoga may be helpful in treating individuals with anxiety and general stress.

“Although we cannot escape stresses of our daily studying and working lives, we can change the way we respond to their triggers by incorporating yoga and meditation practices into our days,” said Coetzee.

Whether you’re new to yoga or have been excelling at it for years, yoga is for everyone. No matter the skill level you are, the yoga teacher is there to talk you through each pose. A common misconception some people have, holding them back from joining a yoga class is that they believe they have to be flexible.

Until the beginning of this year, I’ll admit that was definitely my own perception too. Annoyingly, standing up I cannot touch my toes without bending my knees. However, to my relief, this is also the case for almost half of the students in each class.

“If I asked you a question: “Can you breathe?”

I’m expecting the “YES” answer here! And with that YES, yoga is for everyone and YOU can begin your yoga practice by signing up for your first beginner class or course, which most yoga studios run.

Physical strength and flexibility are not required. You just need your body, your breath, willingness to focus and move to your ability, not others, yours.”

The mental benefits are not all that yoga possesses. With regular and consistent yoga practice, Coetzee believes yoga works its magic in physical ways too.

Mascha Coetzee in a yoga pose. Image courtesy of Coetzee.

Mascha Coetzee, image courtesy of Coetzee.

“It can help improve your posture and balance, strengthen your bones and muscles, improve your flexibility, reduce back pain and tension in the neck and shoulders, along with fostering the functions of your heart and digestive, respiratory, and reproductive organs, and promoting overall healing.” said Coetzee.

The relaxing breathing techniques of this practice can also lessen built up tension in the body and help relax the muscle groups. Relaxing yourself deep into a yoga pose lowers the body’s reaction to threat and instead changes the pattens of the nerves and chemical make up into a calm state for the brain, heart and muscles. This state of biochemical relaxation enriches the blood with oxygen and reduces heart rate and blood pressure.

The physical benefits do not stop there! Other physical benefits of this practice can also include reducing pain caused from arthritis, headaches and carpel tunnel syndrome. Energy levels can be lifted ,cardio and circulatory health improved. Lastly, yoga is known to be an excellent way to tone the body and aid in weight reduction.

An average yoga class runs for approximately 60 minutes, but for the purpose of this article let’s try a compressed yoga session for 6 minutes. Find a comfortable seated position on the floor; this could simply be sitting cross legged or sitting on your knees. Close your eyes or soften your gaze down to the floor. Take 5 deep breaths while really focusing on each breath as you inhale and exhale. Let all the stress of daily life flow out of your body and into the earth… They are no longer yours to worry about for the next 6 minutes. When you have finished your breaths, take yourself to a child’s pose. This is where you are seated with your thighs resting on your calves and you lean forward with your head pressed to the earth and your arms stretched out in front. Stay here for 3-4 minutes and feel the serenity of the pose while always keeping a focus on your breath. Once you feel centred, shift your pose to savasana (lay flat on your back with your arms by your sides). Focus your awareness to the sounds surrounding you – birds, cars, machines humming, water running. Whatever it may be just sit, listen and appreciate the world around you. Once you have done this for a while, your mini practice is over. How do you feel?

Namaste


For students there are multiple yoga studios they can check out in the Newcastle area.

Yoga Loft 

121 King Street, Newcastle 2300

0417 313 299

Instagram: yogaloftnewcastle

Offers student concession rates for $10 per drop in class. Valid concession ID is required.

Yoga for All

39 Bolton Street, Newcastle 2300

0401 260 423

Instagram: yogaforall_

Payment is depending on your budget. Yoga For All is Australia’s only Pay-what-you-can yoga studio.

Twine Yoga Studio 

2/214 Brunker Rd, Adamstown NSW 2289

Instagram: twineyogastudio

$13 concession rate per class.

Tula Yoga and Wellness

Various Newcastle class locations

0431 296 163

Instagram: tulayogaandwellness

$10 per class

Ashtanga Yoga Newcastle

Level 2, 372 King St, Newcastle

0408 945 080

Instagram: ashtangayoganewcastle

$10 student concession rate depending on class

Earthie Yoga 

1/5 Mayfield Road, Mayfield

0408 945 080

Instagram: earthieyoga

$10 concession rate per class

The Path 2 Alignment

1 Rural Drive, Sandgate

0417 267 492

Instagram: thepath2alignment

$12 concession rate per class

 


Feature Image: Bea King, Yak Media Designer

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