Living in a Pressure Cooker? Try Yoga

Jake Panasevich

As overworked and stressed-out Americans, we face many challenges. We all work tirelessly to support ourselves and succeed. Eventually, the frenetic pace of life may catch up to us and affect our health and relationships.

Life is a like a battlefield. Yoga is a means to navigate the battle skillfully.

Yoga trains us to perform at our best when the stakes are high -- whether at our jobs or during a meaningful conversation. How we handle these defining moments shapes our character. With practice, yoga helps us use conflicts to our advantage so we can advance and grow. Here's how:

1. It boosts your confidence.

In a society that's always demanding more, where it seems as if nothing is good enough, yoga makes you feel complete and satisfied with who you are right now. The first few classes are humbling. You realize that the basic poses are very challenging to do correctly. Through repetition, you quickly start to accomplish these postures with ease. You build momentum and self-assurance so you can advance. Before long, you become more fearless both on and off your mat. You start to welcome challenges and see them as opportunities to learn.

2. It gives you pause.

Yoga gives you space to think and respond intelligently, rather than just react. When you're working on proper alignment in any pose, you have to take the time to make sure you get it right. Sometimes, the pause happens naturally when you find yourself connected to your breath. Usually when you are challenged, you teach yourself to force a pause during your practice. Once you train yourself to stop your autopilot mind from just pushing through challenges, you notice the subtleties and beauty in your practice. You learn to deepen your breath and not panic. This skill is crucial when it comes to high-pressure moments. Instead of just going with your knee-jerk reaction, yoga teaches you to stop, breath and proceed more competently. The next time you are dealing with a difficult coworker or you get stuck in traffic, try taking a couple of deep breaths before you do something you might regret.

3. It requires focus.

When you practice yoga, it demands that you pay attention to every detail, from the way you align your body to the quality and subtlety of your breath. There is very little leeway for your mind to fall back into work-mode or to wander elsewhere. If you are truly listening to the instructor, it is nearly impossible to lose concentration for more than a couple moments. You are quickly drawn back in by the sheer challenge of getting the pose right. In an age where cell phones, social media and computers are readily available, it is paramount to be able to give the task at hand or the people with whom you are speaking your complete attention.

4. It develops mental strength.

If you've ever tried to balance on one foot while in a challenging pose like Warrior III, chances are, you've fallen out of it many times. What you learn quickly is that falling is more than probable -- it's inevitable. You learn to invite challenge and, through patience and resilience, you achieve balance. You become comfortable with being vulnerable. Sometimes, this means not taking yourself too seriously or inspiring more directionality in your pose. When you are in the heat of a difficult task, yoga prepares you to be steady, focused and light-hearted.

5. It teaches you do less to receive more.

Yoga teaches you to pay attention to the sensations in your body to avoid stress in your practice. If you are struggling to catch your breath, you stop until you can deepen your breath without straining. In this way, you learn to work smarter, rather than working yourself into the ground. You learn to fully challenge yourself without pushing beyond your limits. This mindful movement protects you from injury and helps build self-awareness. You focus on yourself completely and how to achieve the poses without sacrificing integrity. When you have a project at work that is overwhelming, take a step back and make the time for yourself first so you can move forward with more clarity.

6. It helps you see the big picture.

In yoga, you carve out a short amount of time for yourself. It is your time to get grounded and focus on something other than the stressful parts of your life. While you practice, you forget about the daily grind and focus on yourself and what truly matters most. When you are asked to be still and silent in savasana, the final rest pose at the end of class, you have a sense of complete surrender and ease. If it is your first time to yoga, this could be an intense, emotional time. For a lot of people, it is the first time they take their minds off of work or their other obligations. When you are done with that final pose, you find yourself in a deep sense of in stillness. You can see clearly what you really value in life and how you would like to move forward.