With more people than ever experiencing stress and anxiety, many are turning to yoga for help. Although it’s long been known to help people relax and find peace in body, mind and soul, there is now a growing body of scientific research to back these claims up. Through activating the body’s relaxation response, yoga has been shown to help people lower their stress levels and relieve many of the conditions caused by chronic stress. Here’s how yoga can help you manage both the physical and mental aspects of stress.
Yoga can decrease the secretion of cortisol - the stress hormone
So, how does yoga reduce stress? Although many benefits of yoga can’t be measured, there is growing scientific evidence which shows that yoga for stress and anxiety relief actually works. Numerous studies have shown that a regular practice can reduce the secretion of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone (1, 2). Cortisol is one of the hormones which triggers our ‘fight or flight’, also known as the stress response. Through regulating the breath and allowing the body to relax, yoga can reduce the secretion of this hormone and encourage the production of oxytocin and endorphins – the ‘happy hormones’ – instead.
Yoga helps you slow down and be in the present moment
Even a 10 minute pranayama (breathing exercise) practice invites you to slow down and cultivate stillness in both body and mind. As stress often arises from worrying about the future – not getting there fast enough, or feeling overwhelmed by having too much to do – taking time out of the day to enjoy the present can be an invaluable tool. Using the breath, yoga can allow you to discover being fully present in stillness, and in doing so come back into a state of balance. Discovering how to create a sense of calm within yourself is a lesson that you can take off the yoga mat and into everyday life.
It can help to relieve other symptoms of stress
Although stress is most often associated with our mental and emotional health, it frequently manifests in the physical body. Many people suffering from stress often also experience painful side-effects such as chronic back pain, insomnia, digestive or stomach problems, and high blood pressure.
Studies have shown that a yoga practice which includes physical postures, breathwork and meditation can reduce hypertension (3, 4), improve sleep quality (5) and ease low back pain (6). Thanks to yoga’s nurturing of the mind-body connection, yoga helps to address not only the feelings of stress but the body’s physiological response, too.
It activates the parasympathetic nervous system
Any time we feel stressed or anxious, our bodies activate our sympathetic nervous system – also known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. Although this stress response is useful in some situations, we haven’t evolved to live constantly in a high-stress state. Unfortunately this is what many people find themselves experiencing due to high pressure jobs and busy lifestyles.
Yoga can help you manage stress by activating the parasympathetic nervous system instead – the ‘rest and digest’ response. Through breathing exercises, postures and meditation, this restorative nervous system allows the body to find deep relaxation and repair damage induced by stress.
It helps you observe how you react to feelings of stress and discomfort - and how to overcome them
Hatha yoga in particular, where postures are held for longer, can help you to notice how you respond to feelings of stress. It may sound simple, but holding your body in the same position for extended periods of time can cause all sorts of feelings to arise, including stress. A yoga practice can teach you to observe how you react when you feel uncomfortable on the mat – and how you overcome those feelings. Discovering how to nurture non-reactivity and remain calm under pressure isn’t only a skill that you’ll use during your yoga practice; it can help you manage stress in your daily life, too.
Are you suffering from stress, and curious about how yoga could help you manage? Work with me to discover a personalized practice to meet your physical and mental needs.