Dossier: Stress and relaxation

Applying yoga to daily life

Yoga is one of the best known methods of relaxation. However, as experienced yoga teacher Bruno Dietziker found out, even with this form of stress management, you can have too much of a good thing.

Text: Julie Freudiger, photots: Kostas Maros

“Stress is personal. Sometimes you have to ask yourself: Why am I so stressed? Who am I trying to impress? I’ve had stressful moments in my life, too.

When I was 19, my doctor advised me to change profession. He’d never seen anyone so stressed at such a young age. Back then I was working as a foreign currency trader. After a year on the trading floor, I had the shakes, couldn’t sleep and couldn’t switch off. I followed my doctor’s advice, handed in my notice, packed my rucksack and headed for America.

“I didn’t feel stressed, because I loved what I was doing.”
Bruno Dietziker

The journey to becoming a renowned yoga teacher

In the USA I lived for a few months in a national park. For weeks, I sat on a hill, stared at a point in the distance and enjoyed the peace and quiet. I didn’t know back then that this is actually a yoga technique. It just made me happy and gave me a feeling of deep inner peace. My journey led me on to other countries such as India, Nepal, Tibet and Sri Lanka, where I lived in a Buddhist monastery. I was introduced to yoga at the age of 20 by someone I met on my travels. Since then I’ve practised yoga daily. My first yoga school, which I opened in Ireland in 1987, wasn’t planned long in advance, but from the very beginning I felt that I’d found my purpose in life. It wasn’t long before around a thousand people were attending my classes every week, and I soon had a two-storey yoga studio at a top location in Dublin. My students included world famous artists and musicians like Sting and Bono. I didn’t feel stressed, because I loved what I was doing.

Inevitable burnout

After 17 years of travel, I returned to Switzerland. And once more my yoga classes were soon fully booked. After a number of intensive years, I realised that my heart and soul weren’t really in it any more, so I knew what I had to do: I gave up the studio and took time out. However, a year later, when I’d launched a four-and-a-half-year yoga training course, I realised that I’d taken on too much. I’d underestimated the workload: developing all the course content, planning the process, and coordinating students, guest lecturers and training rooms. I often worked until three in the morning. And then I got up at 4 am to start practising yoga. I had no free time, suffered from frequent colds, my body was drained of energy. This time, there was no way out, because I’d signed a five-year contract with my students. Yoga is my life. It doesn’t matter whether I work ten or 20 hours, as long as I enjoy what I’m doing. And that certainly wasn’t the case at this point in my life.

Handling stress

In the meantime, I’ve rediscovered a healthy life-work balance and enjoy holding the course and giving additional lessons once a week. I only do what I enjoy and deal consciously with stress. Nowadays I spend less time doing yoga on a mat and focus on integrating it into my everyday life. Yoga enables us to take a step back and observe ourselves: What happens when I act instead of reacting? That’s why I enjoy teaching: I want my students to be able to help themselves and others live a meaningful life. It’s a great skill to be able to apply yoga to your daily life.”

How yoga helps manage stress

Deep and conscious breathing, meditation and gentle physical activity have a positive effect on the parasympathetic nervous system. If the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, body and mind are in recovery. Stress is reduced, and digestion and metabolism are stimulated. The muscles relax, causing complaints such as headaches or neck pain to subside or disappear altogether. Blood pressure levels decrease, too. If we incorporate sufficient periods of relaxation into our daily routine, we are generally more resistant to stress and more resilient.

Bruno Dietziker, 58, is an internationally renowned yoga teacher. He introduced Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga to Switzerland. Today he lives in Zurich and spends as much time at his yoga hut in Vitznau as possible. He teaches Hatha yoga once a week in Zurich, offers yoga holidays on Crete, and has developed a four-year yoga teacher training course.