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Yoga and Meditation Offer Serenity Amid Holiday Stress

The holiday season is approaching and is supposed to be a time of celebration, but unfortunately, it becomes a source of stress for many. Local yoga and meditation are beneficial ways for Ithaca residents to reduce this tension.

According to an American Psychiatric Association survey, 41% of people say their stress increases during the holiday season. This stress is caused by financial pressures, gift-giving, and family gatherings.

Yoga Farm Ithaca’s building located on N Meadow Street in Ithaca. (Photo by Hannah Fichter/Ithaca Week)

Yoga’s positive impacts

Yoga studios, such as Yoga Farm Ithaca, provide the opportunity for individuals to achieve both physical and mental balance. Zara Leonard, studio manager, and a seasoned yoga teacher explained that yoga and her mindfulness journey have helped her ground herself amid chaos.

One of Leonard’s personal practices is remembering to take a long, slow, intentional breath when she is stressed. These grounding practices help her be tuned into her body, and she explained that in periods where she is not grounded, she experiences burnout.

“Being able to have tools to not only ground in a moment but also to walk a path that feels more balanced because it has more grounded aspects to it,” Leonard said. “For me, it just comes back to being able to respond versus react, to be able to live intentionally, to be able to pause for just a moment not necessarily to see the long game, but to see that five minutes from now game.”

Jackie de Oliveira, co-owner at YogOdyssey, specializes in hot yoga — a variant of hatha yoga conducted in a 105-degree Fahrenheit room with 40% humidity. De Oliveira explained the benefits she has personally experienced from this type of yoga.

“From a physical practice, I worked in front of a computer all day, I started to have the beginnings of carpal tunnel syndrome from doing that,” De Oliveira said. “We have a posture called the locus pose, and it’s really helpful with tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome, and once I started doing the yoga on a regular basis, the symptoms I experienced disappeared.”

Jackie de Oliveria performing a yoga pose. (Photo by Hannah Fichter/Ithaca Week)

Boosting health through meditation 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, practicing mindfulness and meditation can be a way to cope with holiday stress.

Rick Faria, leader of Sunday morning meditations at the Ithaca Zen Center, emphasized the profound impact of meditation on mental well-being. Faria explains that meditation has helped him to learn how to enjoy the present and not look so far ahead in the future.

“It allows me to be a better teacher, to be a better husband, to be a better son and a better brother,” Faria said.

According to Faria, the people who taught these ancient practices like meditation knew about the health benefits. Now, there is scientific proof that meditation is beneficial for your health.

“There have been many studies that have shown lower cortisol levels in people who have some sort of a regular meditation practice, cortisol being a hormone that you get a lot of in your system when you’re really stressed out all the time,” Faria said. “It’s been shown that if you have that kind of stress over long periods of time, it’s very corrosive to your system.”

A room at Yoga Farm Ithaca where classes are taught. (Photo by Hannah Fichter/Ithaca Week)

The role of yoga and meditation in reducing stress

According to Faria, we live in a world of constant stress. Faria said studies have shown that this stress has a negative impact on overall well-being and both physical and mental health.

“We have exams, we have family, we have money, we have the situation of the world,” Faria said. “It creates this little constant low-level hum of nervous system activation; we’re always constantly one foot a little bit in fight or flight.”

According to Leonard, the role of yoga and meditation is to raise awareness of the stress patterns ingrained in the body, mind, and spirit, not to eradicate these patterns. Yoga optimizes the body’s response to stress, offering practitioners the ability to make choices that serve their well-being.

“Being in constant stress wears on the physical body, emotional body, spiritual body, and the bodies of your friends and family,” Leonard said. “It seeps so wide when we’re constantly living in stress.”

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