Mind Body

Benefits of Yoga for Stress Relief

“It’s not about being good at something. It’s about being good to yourself.” – Anonymous

Woman sitting outside in beautiful sunrise. Doing yoga for stress relief

Surrounded By Stress

In a 2018 New York Times survey, Americans ranked as high among the most stressed people in the world. About 55% of adults said they had experienced stress during “a lot of the day” prior, compared with just 35% globally. Statistically, that put the country on par with Greece, which had led the rankings on stress since 2012.

Signs of stress are everywhere; our mobile phones are set to the “on” position, allowing messages to stream through at any hour of the day – the boss calling for that project to be completed faster, the husband calling to ask what’s for dinner, the principal calling to let you know your child got into a fight.

Finding Natural Remedies For Stress Relief

With high stress an epidemic in this country, it is recommended to turn to natural relievers like breathing exercises, yoga, and spiritual and physical connection for remedy. While exercise is a useful way to reduce stress, it sometimes comes at the expense of creating more strength by “pushing harder” or increasing heart rates to high levels. 

On the other hand, yoga may be a more useful way of reducing stress because it combines both physical fitness with self-awareness and compassion. It combines physical poses, controlled breathing, and meditation, and almost anyone can do it. Yoga practice has been linked to not only reducing stress but also lowering blood pressure and heart rate, reducing cortisol levels, reduced anxiety and muscle tension, increased strength and flexibility, slowed aging process, and improving sound sleep. There are so many benefits of Yoga, it gives a high payoff for the effort involved.

Our Nervous System

Our autonomic nervous system which responds to stress, has two divisions; parasympathetic and sympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for intense physical activity and is often referred to as the fight-or-flight response. The parasympathetic nervous system has almost the exact opposite effect and relaxes the body and inhibits or slows many high energy functions. Yoga trains to counter stress by calming you down and reducing chronic stress and hormone levels as your heart rate viability increases.

Understanding Yoga

Yoga is non-judgmental observation of the mind and body. Where the body is tight, the mind strives to relieve pressure. When there are thoughts racing through the mind, physical relaxation helps to calm the urgency and anxiety.  In yoga, the mind and body are one in the same, and practice will help you balance the connection between the two. 

Yoga mats rolled up, woman in yoga pose, stress relief

Yoga is a great way to release emotional energy. Emotional tension is stored often in the hips and shoulders and postures that release these areas are particularly effective.  Studies show that the most effective ways in which yoga targets stress are by lifting your mood (or positive effect), by allowing for increased mindfulness, and by increasing self-compassion. By simultaneously getting us into better moods, enabling us to be more focused on the present moment, and by encouraging us to give ourselves a break, yoga is a very effective stress reliever.

Yoga for the Mind

Moving beyond the physical benefits, Yoga can help to develop an awareness of how our minds work, and to live out our lives more consciously. A challenging pose on the yoga mat allows us to observe how our mind responds to stress. You may get the urge to immediately pull out of the pose, or you may feel that you want to explore the pose a bit more and push harder. Whatever you observe, it allows you to have the opportunity to become less affected by the external and immediate reaction you feel and make a conscious choice on how to respond.

How to Use Yoga Principles for Stress Relief

Ways to lower your stress response through yoga and breathing techniques include:

  1. Attend a local yoga class or grab a mat and find a video on Youtube to follow.
  1. Take five to fifteen minutes and put on a guided meditation. Apps like Headspace and Calm are great places to start.
  1. Learn breathing techniques like Ujjayi breath. This consists of taking a long breath in through your nose while constricting the back of your mouth in a “ha’ shape, while keeping your lips closed. Your breath will sound loud, like the waves of the ocean.
  1. Start each day with the intention of being kind to yourself. Feelings of kindness and acceptance will lead to feelings of self-worthiness and awareness. 
  2. Allow yourself to indulge in the things that make your soul sing; dancing around the house, reading fifteen minutes of a book, taking an extra long hot shower, or spending time preparing food that will nourish your body. 
  3. Focus on feeling grateful and carry those feelings with you throughout your daily life.

The Mental Moral of Yoga…

Expand your ability to accept, forgive, and love by extending kindness and love to yourself first. Positive emotion will naturally fulfill you reducing stress both to yourself and those around you.

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