Yoga Series Part One: The Four Important Ways Movement Breaks Assist Study Stress

Benefits of Yoga

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘yoga’? A vegan with a man-bun and a flowing psychedelic shirt? Or a gorgeous, impossibly slim woman with the flexibility of a lithe cat?  Yes, these are the gender stereotypes. But, like all ancient traditions arising from diverse and evolving cultures over thousands of years, one’s motivation for practice and appreciation does structure one’s perspective.

There are yogis and instructors focused on broad styles such as Hatha or Vinyasa while others follow leading gurus such as Bikram or Iyengar. There are eleven main styles with their own unique focus on breathing, stretching and asanas(postures). So, what binds these styles together under ‘yoga’? And what does being a yogi mean?   

Benefits of Yoga for Students

As a registered yoga instructor, one cannot answer this question succinctly. The vastness of the topic challenges one to summarise it without simplifying the message. Nevertheless, in an attempt to categorise the benefits, it would be thus:

  • Understanding how energy can be harnessed and utilised to promote efficiency and success.
  • Understanding the importance of daily movement to both support and appreciate the complexity of our physical body.
  • Understanding the need for and reward of personal goal setting and determination.
  • Understanding how our breath is the most powerful tool at our disposal.

Practising yoga can be greatly advantageous to all individuals, most particularly the studying academic. Why? Because while studying we are consistently forcing ourselves into new and unchartered territory. We are journeying into new knowledge at every turn which taxes our working memory and the processes needed for consolidation endlessly. 

Regarding the basic physical necessities, it can sometimes be a marathon where one chooses between health and commitment, nourishment and deadlines. But does it have to be this way? What more could be achieved if we allowed for small, focused breaks to dedicate our whole being to holistic advancement?

Part 1: Mid-study Stretching

The first crucial element to finding balance between study and wellbeing is physical. The human body has adapted strategically to our evolving environmental factors, but stationary work at a desk for long hours still remains an inevitable burden on our physique. 

An excellent mid-study stretching session to promote resilience can be completed in well under ten minutes. This flow will rejuvenate the limbs and work to reverse the muscle fatigue of the stooped figure that we become, curled over a screen. 

  1. Sit up tall at your desk, looking straight ahead. Lean your right ear to your right shoulder while applying gentle pressure to the top of your head with your right hand. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, inhaling and exhaling three times. With each exhale, feel the weight of your head deepen. Then, with your left hand, cradle your right jawbone and gently lift your head until it is straight again. Repeat on the left.

  1. Stand up and inhale deeply as you arc your arms wide, looking up while stretching toward the ceiling. As you exhale, soften your gaze and look forward. Then as you inhale, look up again, stretching your fingers’ tips into the air as if pulled by invisible strings. Repeat for three breaths.

  1. Bend forward, hinging from the hip and cascading downward into a forward fold, with your knees slightly bent or straight (depending on your comfort level). Feel your spine stretch out and your hamstrings stretch out as you inhale and then when exhaling, fall deeper into your bend, with the neck remaining soft and palms gently reaching for the ground. Take three deep breaths here, falling gently and eyes closed. Keep your spine straight and stretch your arms out to the side as you rise to stand, bringing palms up above your head.

  1. Widen your feet to a comfortable, wide-legged stance. Then, with hands at the hip joint, engage your core muscles and fold forward keeping your back straight as you descend. Lift through your kneecaps and quads and lift your hips skyward.

  1. Grasp your upper arms with opposite hands and let your body and head hang. Gently nod, then slowly shake your head, breathing slowly for three breaths. Find the floor with your fingertips and gradually reach forward, lowering to the floor until you are on all fours.

  1. Hands and knees should be hip-width apart and facing forward. Inhale deeply and as you exhale, drop your head, round your back up like a cat and pull your navel into your spine. As you expend your breath and inhale again, pass through your neutral spine and into an opposite pose with your belly dropped, pressing through your palms, gazing upward and lifting your tailbone. Repeat with slow deep inhales and exhales for three breaths.

  1. Come into a neutral spine and then raise your right hand skyward, following it with your gaze. Bring your right arm down and thread it through between your left knee and left hand until your left forearm, your right ear and your right shoulder all melt into the ground. Breathe slowly and deeply for three breaths. Rise slowly and repeat on the opposite side.

  1. Come back to all fours. Then, slowly lower your hips and sit back onto your heels, while bending forward and reaching out with your arms. Bring your head to rest on the floor and while exhaling deeply, relax and melt into the ground. Inhale and stretch your arms forward, expanding and extending your fingers and melt into the floor again. When exhaling, repeat.

  1. Engaging your quads and your core, rise back to all fours and continue forward until you are lying on the floor, hands gently beside your head, palms down. With your feet hip-width apart and your core engaged, arrange your elbows under your shoulders, fore pressing into the ground and facing forward. While inhaling, lift your chest and head for a mild back bend. Hold three long breaths then lower gently back to the floor.

  1. Roll onto your back and bring your feet flat close to your pelvis with knees bent. Hug your left knee into your chest and stretch your right leg out straight. Reaching your left arm out wide, guide your left knee slowly to the right, across your body and toward the ground. Turn your head and gaze to the left and with each exhale focus on deepening the stretch. Hold for three breaths then repeat on the other side.

  1. Bring your legs back to centre, knees bent and feet flat on the ground at a comfortable distance from your pelvis. Slowly rock your knees from side to side towards the ground, like a windshield wiper.

  1. Gently stretch out your arms above your head and your legs out straight. Hold and stretch as far as you can and then rest easy, eyes closed, arms by your sides and palms facing upward. Lie here for a few minutes, calming your nervous system, relaxing the mind and body, and feeling your energy rejuvenate and circulate around your body with each deep breath.

Yet stretching is only the beginning! How to incorporate our breath work or to stimulate the crown for knowledge, the solar plexus for determination, and the root chakra for energy? How to build these layers to both maximise our inner potential and protect our well-being proactively? Join me next issue as I explain the next step in a healthy manageable study balance or reach out via www.kyliemort.com.au or kmort@deakin.edu.au for information about the asanas in this flow or how to incorporate props to assist comfort and/or injury within this mid-study stretch. 

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