Stress is a part of life and we all experience it. And stress is different for everybody. What is stressful for one person might not be for another. But there is a definite physiological response in the body that occurs when someone is undergoing something that they perceive to be stressful.
When we are under stress, a series of events is triggered in the body, sometimes referred to as the “stress response.” This stress response is a complex web of events that prepares the body to deal with an acute crisis. Stress hormones are released into the bloodstream, causing many reactions in the body – blood pressure and heart rate increases, breathing becomes faster and more shallow, to name just a few.
The stress response is a normal process and extremely helpful if we are truly in danger and need to move or react quickly. But for many of us, this response never gets shut off because we are under high levels of stress, or even prolonged lower levels of stress, perhaps in our workplace or at home. The effects of prolonged and chronic stress accumulate and can have serious consequences for the health of our body and mind.
So how can yoga help?
When we practice yoga, we focus on our breathing. We combine movement with breath and we practice specific breathing exercises (Pranayama). The breathing we learn in yoga has a direct effect on the nervous system and elicits the “relaxation response.” The relaxation response is essentially the opposite of the stress response – decrease in blood pressure and heart rate, breathing becomes slower and deeper, etc. The breathing we practice in yoga can be quite effective in helping us to feel more relaxed.
Much of what we practice in yoga is about awareness. We learn to become aware of our breathing, how our body is feeling and what is going on in our mind. When we meditate in yoga, we practice being the observer of our thoughts and emotions in a detached and healthy way. The more we learn to observe our thoughts and emotions in this way, the more we are able to modulate our reactions to stressful situations. The practice of yoga helps us to connect to our inner resources – our natural state of peace and calm that is at our very core. The more we practice, the more we learn to respond from that place of calmness and peace when we are faced with a stressful situation.
When there is tension in the body, there is tension in the mind. When we practice yoga we move the body in ways that most of us don’t get to do during our normal daily activities. To stay flexible and mobile, we need to keep the body moving in all directions. Many of us have lifestyles that involve the same movements and postures throughout the day causing stiffness and tension to build up in the body. Common areas of tension in our bodies are the lower back, the upper back, shoulders, neck, hips, backs of the thighs and the jaw. In yoga, we move and stretch and breathe into all of these areas, releasing tension and contributing to a more relaxed mind.
These are just a few ways yoga can help with stress reduction. If you’ve never tried yoga before and you are concerned that you can’t do it, read here to learn why you can do yoga.
Yoga is a practice that is accessible to Every Body.
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