Stress is a natural and sometimes even useful part of life at U of T, but constant stress without relief poses challenges that need to be addressed. During my last term, stress from my academic commitments took a toll on my body and caused some unhealthy habits. I was in a vicious cycle of low self-esteem. I neglected self-care practices and I engaged in stress eating because I was upset and craved comfort. By the end of second year, I was dissatisfied with my appearance and I needed to get back in the driver’s seat when it came to my well-being.
This summer, I took action. I accessed fitness centres across campus and I participated in drop-in fitness classes at the Hart House gym. I tried morning yoga classes and quickly discovered how much of a work-out yoga can be. From a downward dog position to a three-legged dog, to a side plank or a cobra position, I was using my entire body and muscles that I had rarely used before. Throughout the summer I also took advantage of every opportunity to get outdoors, listen to birds, and look at the blue sky while practicing yoga on the grass of the quad at Hart House.
I rediscovered the importance of breathing. It is hard to stay poised in challenging yoga positions without breathing and this is similar to being extremely stressed. When overwhelmed, I tend to forget to breathe deeply. When both my mind and body are tense, I’m irritable, and often unhappy and unsatisfied. But after yoga, especially after Shavasana — you lie on the floor, closed eyes, loosen the entire body, breathe, and meditate — I feel calm, relaxed, and grounded. I also feel happier and more accepting of the way things are because, in yoga, you throw away any expectations you have for yourself and listen to your own body.
Stress can be undesirable and will always exist as a part of our lives. However, as Amanda W., one my fitness instructors says, “If you are breathing, you are practicing yoga”. When I’m stressed I will remember to breathe deeply and continue to engage in yoga classes. Even when we are busy, and more prone to neglect our wellness, a few minutes of putting ourselves first through deep breathing, and listening to our bodies, can kick-start better management of stressful times.