Yoga for Stress Relief

Yoga focuses on your body’s natural tendency toward health and self-healing. The practise creates strength, awareness and harmony in both the mind and body. One of it’s greatest benefits is yoga’s proven ability to reduce or relieve stress in its participants. Countless studies of brain patterns and activity have shown that people who participate in yoga are generally happier, more productive, more focused and have more successful relationships than people who don’t practise yoga.

Historically yoga was more than a method of teaching or participating in a class: it was a way of life. It was, and still is a lifestyle and culture that includes:

  • Meditation techniques.
  • Healthy eating habits, bathing habits, social interaction and work.

Yoga’s philosophy is rooted in a physical culture of health and well-being that is still emphasised today at yoga retreats and also explains why over 15 million people around the world now practise this ancient tradition.

While there are more than 100 different types of yoga, most sessions typically include breathing exercises, meditation and assuming poses that stretch and flex various muscle groups.

Most forms of exercise reduces stress in some way, but there are only a few as successful as yoga. The relaxation techniques incorporated in yoga has quite a few physical and mental benefits according to Dr Nevins (board-certified Osteopathic family physician and yoga instructor), and these include:

  • Lessen chronic pain
  • Relaxes the mind
  • Centres attention and sharpens concentration
  • Helps manage stress and relieves chronic stress patterns
  • Improves mental well-being
  • Creates mental clarity and calmness
  • Increases body awareness
  • Increased muscle strength and tone
  • Improved respiration, energy and vitality
  • Increased flexibility
  • Cardio and circulatory health
  • Protection from injury
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Maintaining a balanced metabolism
  • Weight reduction

Here are some ways that yoga can reduce your stress:

It Deepens Your Breathing

Deep breathing slows your sympathetic nervous system and yoga uses slow, deep belly breaths to lower the body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It also supplies the brain with more of the oxygen it needs to work at its best. Yoga can relieve stress by catalysing several chemical responses in the body, none the least of which, is decreasing the release of neurotransmitters.

The result: Feelings of tranquilty are created - you’re calmer and better able to solve the problems that are causing you stress.

It Teaches Mindfulness

When people are stressed, it could be because they are dwelling on the past or worrying about the future and their levels of anxiousness are high. Yoga, however, encourages people to pay attention to their feelings in the present moment, a skill often termed ‘mindfulness’. It helps people become aware of the state of both their minds and bodies and bring them back into harmony with each other. Practicing mindfulness can help combat stress over the long-term.

It Improves Sleep

Stress and sleep (or lack of) cause a tiring cycle. Stress can cause insomnia, which in turn can make you even more stressed. Yoga can help break this cycle and according to one study, researchers found that patients with chronic insomnia significantly improved the number of hours they slept each night – as well as the quality of their sleep – after practising yoga for just eight weeks. (Sat Bir S. Khalsa Treatment of Chronic Insomnia with Yoga: A Preliminary Study with Sleep-Wake Diaries. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback: December 2004, Vol. 29, pp. 269-278  http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10484-004-0387-0 ).

It has the Factors of Relaxing Exercise

Research has found that a physical exercise can effectively reduce stress if it has the following four characteristics:

  • Aerobics
  • Non-competitiveness
  • Predictability
  • Repetitiveness

Yoga has all these four features and thus can provide relaxation and help reduce stress levels.

It Boosts Confidence and Improves Self Acceptance

Stress can occur from low self-esteem and awkward social interactions and according to some studies, yoga, whether practiced in a class or on your own, can help you accept yourself in a better way and reduce social anxiety.

The process works by releasing tension from your mind , so that you can feel confident about your physical body. Without any forms of anxiety, you are then able to establish an internal connection with yourself. This is consequently reflected in your perception of others and will help to better your relationships by improving compassion and awareness.

There is a great article published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information NCBI with regards to scientific research on the effects of yoga for stress relief. It can be found here:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3193654/