23 Jun #1 Takeaway from Yoga Retreat in India: Meditation reduces stress
– Klara Kovarova, B.A., M.A., Canada
Like many students and young professionals in an increasingly competitive working environment, stress becomes a common part of life. Even without school, internships, the pressure of choosing a career, and more, life always presents some sort of challenges to overcome, causing varying levels of stress. Some people handle it better than others, but regardless of how well you cope with stress, having some outlet, coping mechanism, or calming ritual is important.
What is perhaps even more important than knowing how to handle yourself when you are stressed, is ensuring that you make time to focus on yourself, to go back to the basics of what it is to be human, and to be in an environment where the worries of good grades, achieving the career you want, or anything else are not a priority. This was something that I got from my experience at the ashram and something that I had forgotten about as a result of the busyness of life.
Yoga and meditation have proven to be effective ways, for me, to deal with stress. It is a combination of the quiet, the calm, and the focus on oneself that helps the stress blow away. At the same time, you cannot force yoga or meditation to be effective; time and energy must be dedicated to this, which is why I found that a week of yoga and meditation was perfect for me to find the necessary balance within myself to get rid of daily stress.
I was given an opportunity to reconnect with myself. When I say reconnect with myself, I mean in a way re-aligning the way I act and think with my core values. It is so easy with the many situations around us – friends, family, colleagues, movies, phones, computers, etc. – to alter the way we behave to fit with the many exterior stimuli around us. It was the combination of meditation and yoga that allowed me to find that inner peace and balance, which I had forgotten was even possible in the first place.
Meditation helped me address the stress I was feeling by not focusing on it. I do not mean to say that I was avoiding stress, but rather that I was in the right environment and that I had the time to focus on simpler things, such as breathing, and clearing my mind.
Every morning and every evening there was a scheduled meditation at the ashram – half an hour of silent meditation, followed by an hour or so of mantras. Sitting on a mat, cross-legged, back straight, and in a room that had large open archways (see picture), a group of 30-50 people sat in silence.
At first, I had so many thoughts and worries, but then, I let them all go. What really helped with the meditation was the setting; I was at an ashram in the lush forests of Kerala, over an hour away from any large city, and definitely away from all work, school, and life responsibilities. All the surrounded me was the humid air, the rustle of the papaya, banana and coconut trees, and myself. Having that space and time to not worry allowed me to meditate and to let go of all my worries and stresses; these things don’t matter in such a beautiful environment.
Practicing YOGA does not intuitively seem like a relaxing exercise, especially not in humid 35-degree Celsius weather. Yoga was scheduled twice a day: morning and afternoon, and both were 2-hour sessions. The first bit always felt rather exhausting, but I always felt so exhilarated and full of energy at the end. I think that, unlike other forms of exercise, yoga allows you to focus on yourself and to expel the tensions in your body, thus alleviating stress. You focus on the breathing and movement, leaving no room for other worries, and on the minutiae details of the movement of the body.
By bending, flexing, moving with focus and purpose, it allows rest and recovery for your body. You stretch your body and your mind beyond what you thought you could do, giving you the energy and confidence to overcome other worries in life.