Stretching the stress away

“Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and try to find an intention. It can be joy, happiness, peace or simply focus.”

That was one of the guiding practices yoga instructor Susan Di Ilio shared with the class of about 10 students at Durham College.

While it may be hard to find ten seconds to catch your breath in a day, yoga attempts to bring you back to a moment of calm in the midst of school, work and social responsibilities, explains Di Ilio.

The Toronto Star revealed in a recent survey that more than 90 per cent of college and university aged students have overly high levels of stress and anxiety.

“Yoga allows you to be present and aware of the moment, which then puts focus on that rather than being stressed or worried,” explains Di Ilio.

She has been teaching yoga since 2009 at two studios in Durham Region. She regularly visits high schools and brings her classes to students.

She explains there are both physical and mental benefits of practicing yoga and meditation.

“Physically, yoga makes you more aware of points of tension in your body. When you are introduced to challenging positions, you feel good and encouraged when you are able to reach them,”says Di Ilio. “Mentally, you become more aware of what a calm mind feels like, which allows you to know when you are stressed as well.”

Aside from the feelings of release and calmness that yoga can offer, there are scientific reasons behind the dynamics of the practice as well.

According to Rachel Gorge, yoga advisor and teacher at Moksha Yoga in Brooklin,

many poses activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn slows down the heart rate.

She explains that although regular in-studio practice is good, there are ways to reap the benefits of yoga outside the studio.

“Seated meditation and breathing can bring the body and mind back to a sense of calm in the moment. Even 10-20 slow breathes once a day can help.”

Gorge says practicing breathing techniques can also teach the body to keep calm and still, adding students can come back to that when they are faced with stressful situations.

Tamara Cave, a second year paramedic student at Durham College explains that she first started practicing yoga to help cope with the stressful demands of her program. She first took the Yoga for Anxiety class that Di Ilio offers the third week of school.

Since then, Cave explains, “I’ve learned how to control stress and react to it in an appropriate way. When I walk into yoga feeling tense, I always find a way to calm myself and I relax and when I leave the yoga class, I feel like a whole new person.”

She says that the Yoga for Anxiety class has especially benefitted her in her outside life.

“It’s benefitted me by helping me relieve the stress in my life and learning techniques I can use at home,” she says. “It’s helped improve my balance and state of mind and I’ve learned how to be more positive when dealing with things in my life. It has also allowed me to further improve my fitness level,” explains Cave.

Durham College offers students yoga and meditation at the Campus Recreation Centre. Di Ilio teaches a specially focused class for anxiety on Wednesdays at 12:10. More information can be found on the centre’s website.