Does Yoga Actually Reduce Stress
These are undeniably stressful times. Managing that stress is a crucial part of how we will all get through this. We often hear about yoga and meditation as great ways to reduce stress, but do these eastern practices really work or is it just a hippie-urban legend? Does yoga actually reduce stress?
Ancient traditions that still get used daily are certainly worth looking into, right? Nearly 20 million Americans practice yoga, but is it helping lower stress? A recent study dug into this topic to see if yoga can actually help combat general anxiety disorder.
For this study 226 men and women diagnosed with general anxiety disorder were randomly put into 3 groups:
- Group 1 was given Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT, structured talk sessions between an expert and an individual.
- Group 2 was given Kundalini Yoga, involving movement, breathing, and meditation exercises.
- Group 3 was given Stress Management Education, you know informative talks on how to handle stress, healthy diet suggestions, encouraging proper sleep, and other self-care options.
This research further highlights that yoga and meditation can be considered as great tools in our own personal mental health tool kits. There are many types of yoga out there as well. For anyone who’s interested in trying out this ancient practice, there’s something for nearly anyone. The options truly are quite flexible.
Release Negativity During Your Yoga Practice
Negative thoughts are bound to arise when you do yoga. You can practice awareness, acceptance, and detachment to create positive mental patterns. This may help you have fewer negative thoughts and be less affected by them.
Learn to focus on the present moment and bring your attention to your thoughts as they arise and pass, which helps you recognize their fleeting nature.
Each time you find yourself getting lost in your thoughts â whether theyâre positive or negative â bring your awareness back to your breath and body. Over time, you can make it a habit to detach from both positive and negative states of mind.
Understand How Your Mind Works
For me this point is the most crucial when it comes to long-term stress management, as so much of our stress comes from the way our minds turn. When we let our minds run on auto-pilot mode, that is to live unconsciously, we are at the mercy of our conditioning.
Yoga can help us develop awareness of how our own unique mind works and that awareness can help us live in a more conscious way. As an example, when we are in a challenging place on the yoga mat, awareness lets us see how our mind responds to stress. Our reaction might be to immediately pull out of the pose. Or perhaps its to push ourselves further. It might be to get angry at the teacher, or it might be to roll up the mat and get the hell out of there.
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Yoga Poses For Anxiety
The best yoga poses for anxiety relief are the ones that feel good for your body and help you get grounded and find a sense of calm.
On some days, slower practices like Hatha, or gentle practices like restorative or Yin yoga, might be exactly what you need to clear your mind. Practices like these can stimulate the bodys relaxation response.
On other days, faster-paced classes, such as Vinyasa, could be just as effective. Movement can help release stress and anxiety.
High anxiety levels can mean that youre not always able to begin a yoga practice with relaxation techniques.
When there is high sympathetic nervous system activity, the mind is likely racing, which would make still postures distressful, Knopik says.
In Knopiks experience, those who benefit from faster-paced styles of yoga tend to have developed the necessary breathwork, self-regulation, and interoception skills to remain calm and centered throughout the practice.
Without these skills, faster-paced yoga classes could be overstimulating for some people with anxiety.
Still postures or practices need to come after some aspect of movement where nervous or anxious energy is released and individuals feel calmer, Knopik says.
More experienced practitioners may find that standing and balancing postures can help with feeling grounded and present, but can be more helpful following movement.
Yoga For Stress Relief
An estimated 80 to 90 percent of visits to the doctor are stress-related but only less than 3% of doctors talk to their patients about how to reduce stress. Yoga, meditation, and other mind-body practices train your body and mind to be able to cope with stress better and improve overall health and well-being.
In a national survey, over 85% of people who did yoga reported that it helped them relieve stress. Exercise is a very useful way to relieve stress, but yoga is different from spinning class or weight-lifting in that it powerfully combines both physical fitness with an underlying philosophy of self-compassion and awareness. One of the main concepts in yoga is being non-judgmental toward both yourself and others, which is a powerful tool for stress relief since much of our stress comes from us being hard on ourselves or frustrated with others.
Yoga also trains your counter-stress response system called the parasympathetic nervous system. With regular yoga practice, your chronic daytime stress hormone levels drop and your heart rate variability increases, which is a measure of your ability to tolerate stress. This has been shown to improve even after a few sessions of yoga.
How can you integrate yoga into your daily life to get rid of stress?
1. Use your breath.
Breath is key to connect with your body and turn down the dial of stress.
Also try a calming breath called Alternate Nostril Breathing.
4. Practice RAIN.
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What The Research Says
Experts believe yoga helps with anxiety by reducing levels of stress hormones in the body. The body releases stress hormones as part of the fight, flight, or freeze response. This response can lead to symptoms of anxiety.
Slowing and concentrating on the breath can reduce the fast heartbeat and rapid breathing that people with anxiety often experience. The meditation part of yoga can also help people to clear their minds and become calm.
Half Pigeon Lying Down
This pose helps you release tightness in your hamstrings. Lie on your back and bring knees up toward your chest. Fold your right leg, so that your heel rests on the left knee and your right knee sticks out to the side. Reach behind your left leg and pull toward you. You should feel a stretch in your hamstring thats when you know youre in the pose. Hold for about a minute or a few breaths. Repeat on the other side.
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Anxiety And Yoga Therapy
We tend to think of anxiety as a response to stressful circumstances. Whether its butterflies in the stomach or cant-sit-still-nerves, theres a wide range anxiety we can experience on an occasional basis that is unpleasant, but endurable and to a certain extent, rational.
In contrast, when people with an anxiety disorder are asked to describe an anxiety attack, they often say a variation of I thought I was going to die. Whether its a persistent feeling of dread or intermittent panic, the hyperarousal of the fight/flight survival response creates a feeling of urgent fear and unignorable physical symptoms. So how can someone begin to calm down when their body is telling them that they are in mortal danger?
Meditation, visualization, and focusing on breathing can help with letting go of worry and fear. The overall practice of yoga can elicit the relaxation response, allowing both the body and mind to gain a sense of calm and ease.
Katharina Star, PhD. Counsellor Specialising in Anxiety
Yoga therapy can help people in this situation because they arent being asked to rationalise their way out of anxiety. Instead, they are given tools that help them recognise the thoughts, feelings and actions that lead to heightened anxiety, and enact effective self-soothing methods. In a yoga class, they are also unconsciously learning to regulate their stress response and building resilience to stress.
It Deepens Your Breathing
Theres a reason people say, take a deep breath. Deep breathing literally slows your sympathetic nervous system, which acts a lot like a gas pedal for your body, says Donielle Wilson, ND, CPM, CNS, author of The Stress Remedy. Yoga uses slow and most importantly, deep belly breaths to lower your bodys levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as supply your brain with more of the oxygen it needs to work at its best. The result: Youre calmer and better able to solve the problems causing you stress.
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Combining Methods For Complete Health
Firstly, change is difficult for most of us. Of course, we wont admit that our habits cause part of our anxiety. Sometimes, the habits we should discard are small. Habits that cause us grief are negative thoughts, but how can we change? More positive thoughts, words, and actions cause changes in us and the world around us. Each positive vibration is a ripple in the pond of life. How can we start? Listen to music, use aromas that make you feel calm, and use these as tools during your bedtime Yoga routine.
Truly, one bedtime practice could change your life. Yet, someone who reads the advice above may choose to over eat, drink a coffee or a beer before sleep. Thats a great method for insomnia or broken sleep. Nevertheless, you now have the recipe to make a positive change before your next sleep cycle. Write your worries down and leave them on the kitchen table. When you are ready, practice a bedtime routine and Yoga Nidra. If you make a habit out of this routine, your life will change for the best with each new day.
Never Too Late To Begin Yoga For Stress Management
Need more convincing? The American Council on Exercise recently studied the physical benefits of yoga and found that “the regular practice of Hatha yoga significantly improved the subjects’ flexibility, muscular strength and endurance, and balance. After eight weeks, the average flexibility of the yoga group improved by 13% to 35% … Similarly, the yoga group’s muscular strength and endurance was also boosted by regular Hatha yoga.”
Yoga’s emphasis on breathing and the mind/body/spirit connection also yields strong emotional benefits. People who practice yoga frequently report that they sleep better and feel less stressed. “It helps you learn not to concentrate on things you can’t control, to live in the present,” says Mindy Arbuckle, yoga teacher and owner of Green Mountain Yoga in Arvada, Colo. “It seeps into the rest your life. You’ll notice you’re handling a stressful event more easily, whether it’s family or work.”
So even if your mother already knows more about it than you do, it’s still not too late to catch up. If you’re finally ready to give it a try, here’s how to get started.
- Step One — Move Past the Myths
The first step is to give up all the preconceptions that are holding you back. First big myth: you have to be flexible to do yoga. “People who aren’t flexible will actually see results faster,” says Shaw. “I’ve taught people who are well into their 90s.”
- Take a Beginner’s Class
- Don’t Worry About Whether You’re Doing It ‘Right’
- Listen to Your Body
- Play Dead
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It Lulls You With Music
The music in your yoga class can quite literally set your mood. Research in the Journal of Music Therapy shows that listening to relaxing music reduces stressors effects on anxiety, heart rate, and blood pressure.3 How? Music can reduce cortisol levels while prompting your body to produce feel-good endorphins, Wilson says.
If you feel overwhelmed these days, give yoga for stress relief a try. These yoga poses for stress and headaches might be a good place to start for many. See our complete list of articles about stress for more information.
Reduce Anxiety And Improve Memory With Yoga
Guest post by Meera Watts
Stress can cause a myriad of health problems. Memory loss, premature ageing, heart and blood pressure problems are a few of the risks of stress.
Too much stress in the body sends messages to your brain that trickle down to the rest of your body. Your body braces itself to fight or run. If you were to do either of these things, your body would go back to normal. When you experience stress without doing something, it becomes harmful.
A study connected to the Harvard medical department found that yoga does benefit cognitive behaviour. With yoga, we learn how to manage and prevent anxiety and depression.
The poses of yoga also release tension in areas where we are holding stress. Blood is sent to various areas of the body when you do inversions so you give your heart a break.
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/6 How Does Yoga Help To Reduce Stress
Yoga can help us cope with stress on three levels: our bodies, minds, and breath.
A physical aspect of yoga asana helps release tension in the areas that suffer most in times of stress. Think of the last time you got really stressed out. Youve probably felt a lot of stiffness in your upper body, your face and especially your jaw.
In addition to using gentle postures, yoga also incorporates deep and mindful breathing. While its hard to control the tension in your body and muscles, you have the power to control your breath. Calm and deep breaths send a signal to your nervous system that youre safe, promoting both mental and physical relaxation.
Finally, yoga changes your brain, thus affecting how your mind thinks about and responds to stress. Studies show that yogis are less reactive to negative situations comparted to people who dont do yoga and thus more resilient to lifes challenges.
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So How Does Yoga Reduce Stress
As we have discussed, yoga exercises decrease cortisol levels and increase GABA levels, both of which are important to decrease anxiety and improve mood.
How does yoga breathing decrease stress? Your nervous system has several branches and one of these branches controls what your internal organs are doing. It has two parts: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.
The sympathetic is the fight or flight state which ramps up when you are stressed .
The parasympathetic is the rest and digest state which controls more day to day functions.
These two states generally happen automatically which means we dont have control of them. However, we do have the diaphragm to use it mostly functions automatically but we can also control it when we want to .
If you practice specific breathing patterns taught in yoga , you can then harness the rest and digest state which is the non-stressed state you want to be in.
We talked earlier about the mental chatter that clogs your mind when you are stressed. Meditation teaches you to clear out all those distractions, with the goal of totally emptying your mind while you are practicing yoga.
Both the physical exercises and meditation help with releasing tension that has built up in your body. Yoga can be a powerful and natural way to reduce stress by calming your racing thoughts and releasing physical tension.
Reasons for stress and anxiety are all around you. If they are getting the best of you, you might want to try yoga.
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Develop Connection Between The Mind And Body
When the mind and body are connected, theres generally a greater sense of harmony and ease in our lives. The body sends important signals when something is off balance, which happens so often when we are under pressure. Having the ability to respond is therefore really important for our wellbeing.
Yoga teaches us to be sensitive to each movement and to listen to our bodies. The practice encourages us to exist in the present moment and to live in a more mindful, conscious and connected way.
How Does Yoga Help Alleviate Stress And Anxiety
Yoga encourages mental and physical relaxation, which helps reduce stress and anxiety. The physical postures promote flexibility, relieve tension, and alleviate pain.
Yoga poses may help you release physical blockages like muscle knots, helping release emotions and tension. They also promote the release of mood-boosting endorphins, which are the feel-good hormones that can positively affect how you handle stress.
Focusing on the present moment during your yoga practice enhances your awareness, boosts your concentration, and centers your mind.
As you become aware of the transitory nature of your bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings, you may find it easier to let go of attachments to positive, negative, and neutral experiences. You may also learn to cultivate feelings such as love, joy, and serenity.
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