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Yoga Sutras for managing stress: Embracing the Eight Limbs of Yoga

Updated: Jun 21

The Yoga Sutras, widely regarded as the authoritative text on yoga, is a collection of aphorisms outlining the eight limbs of yoga. These “threads” (as sutra translates from Sanskrit) of wisdom offer guidelines for living a meaningful and purposeful life. In this article we delve into how they can be applied in our daily lives in, 'Yoga Sutras for managing stress'.

Key takeaways:

  • The Yoga Sutras offer guidelines for living a meaningful and purposeful life.

  • Yoga Sutra II.16 teaches that understanding and accepting the inevitability of suffering can help us prepare for and avoid unnecessary suffering.

  • "Duhkham" refers to all disturbances in our equilibrium, from minor disquiet to severe heartbreak.

  • Physical symptoms of anxiety, like chest tightness, can mimic heart disease but are often stress-related.

  • Yoga practices, including movement, breathwork, and meditation, can help alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety.

  • Regularly incorporating movement and mindful breathing can create an energetic shift, fostering moments of stillness and well-being.

  • Simple "movement snacks" throughout the day can serve as preventive measures for physical and emotional health.

Close up of woman sitting cross legged holding a red mala and wearing red yoga gear
The red root chakra is believed to be responsible for our physical wellness, as well as our emotional balance

One sutra I regularly contemplate is Yoga Sutra II.16 (heyam duhkham anagatam). Patanjali says that if you can accept that no one is immune from suffering and you understand the causes of suffering, then you can be prepared for the suffering that is yet to come and avoid unnecessary suffering. “The word duhkham, most commonly translated as “suffering,” is also described as “tightness or constriction in the chest or the heart area.” If you think about a time you were upset and what that felt like in your body, you’ll probably recognise the feeling.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali uses duhkham to encompass all disturbances in our equilibrium, from feelings of disquiet or unhappiness to all-out heartbreak. When you’re upset, angry, anxious, sad, unhappy, or devastated, that’s duhkham. Yoga Journal describes this perfectly, and I resonate deeply. Over the last 18 months, I have experienced a lot of worry, feeling like my chest was caving in. Multiple investigations confirmed that my heart is very healthy, and my pain stemmed from anxiety and worry—literally heartache.

Even though I knew in my head that anxiety could cause these symptoms, I couldn't believe that this intense feeling was related to my worry and stress. I was convinced I had heart disease.

What we learn from Patanjali is that while we can’t necessarily prevent certain suffering, we can change our perception or response. We can move our bodies and use tools of yoga, like breathwork and meditation, to help relieve symptoms and perhaps prevent future ailments. Although I needed some medical intervention to ease the symptoms initially, I also had to check in with myself. What practices am I engaging with to help myself? How can I improve matters for myself?

On the most basic level, our physical body serves as the entry point for delving into more subtle work. My go-to approach is to alleviate physical aches, pains, and tensions. This fundamental level of engagement allows me to actively address and improve my well-being. From this starting point, I can focus on breathing in a way that fosters freedom, space, and ease. As my body and breath align, an energetic shift often occurs, paving the way for moments of stillness. Can this progression lead to the prevention of potential suffering? I like to think yes!

In my daily routine, I incorporate movement practices to release tension and stretch areas prone to tightness, such as the chest and shoulders. These "movement snacks" serve as preventive measures for future issues.

Balancing a busy schedule, I've discovered ways to infuse yoga into everyday moments. For example, I perform a shoulder joint lubricating and heart-opening movement while walking my dog, Ciro. I use his lead, but you could use a belt or a pair of tights!

Yoga Sutras for managing stress, take the next step towards wellbeing:

Embracing the principles of the Yoga Sutras can transform how we experience and manage suffering. To deepen your practice and explore these concepts further, consider incorporating more structured yoga sessions into your routine. My classes offer a supportive environment to learn and apply these techniques, helping you build resilience and improve your overall well-being.

Join me for a free trial class at the William Hobbayne Centre and take the first step towards a more balanced and harmonious life.

With love

Vee x


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