Yoga for Stress
Yoga has become a popular and effective means of managing stress in a fast-paced world. Stress is a natural part of life. Everyone experiences it. At times stress is helpful—for example, it can increase productivity or motivate one to meet deadlines. However, long-term stress can lead to a number of emotional and physical problems, including increasing the risk of diseases such as depression and heart disease.
How Can Yoga Help With Stress?
Yoga has many styles, forms, and intensities. It provides a combination of many of the major stress-management techniques, including breathing, deep relaxation, meditation, mental imagery, and exercise.
All types of yoga include two basic components – breathing (pranayama) and poses (asanas). In yoga, breath signifies your vital energy. Yoga teaches that controlling the breathing can help control the body and gain control of the mind – reining in thoughts that can otherwise increase stress and impede relaxation.
Through yoga, you learn to control breathing by paying close attention to the breath. The instructor might ask you to take deep, loud breaths while concentrating on your breath movement. Other breathing techniques involve paying attention to the breath as it moves into the body and fills the lungs or alternately breathing through one nostril.
There are numerous yoga poses, many of them named for mammals, fish, or reptiles. Yoga is an excellent way to draw one’s attention away from a busy, hectic day by guiding the practitioner’s body through various poses that require calm, balance, and concentration.
Many teachers like to have a time at the end of the class for everyone to do savasana, or corpse pose, in which you lay on your back and breathes mindfully in a totally relaxed but aware state, and integrate the wonderful effects of doing yoga.
Why Practice Yoga to Treat Symptoms of Stress?
Yoga is proven to improve strength and flexibility. Studies have also found yoga has a number of stress-relieving benefits, including:
- Allergy and asthma symptom relief
- Sound sleep
- Reduced cortisol levels
- Improvement of many medical conditions
- Lower blood pressure
- Smoking cessation help
- Lower heart rate
- Sense of well-being
- Reduced anxiety and muscle tension
Many companies are finding employees are healthier and more creative when practicing yoga, so they are sponsoring yoga fitness programs.
What is Yoga?
Yoga dates back over 5,000 years and is considered the oldest self-development technique in existence. Incorporating ethical disciplines, physical postures, breathing control and meditation, it was originally designed as a means to calm the body and prepare for meditation.
Yoga’s ultimate goal is to reach complete peacefulness of body and mind, helping one relax and manage stress and anxiety. Traditional yoga philosophy requires that students adhere to this mission through behavior, diet and meditation practices. However, a student can simply use yoga to better manage stress without making an entire lifestyle change.
Is Yoga Safe?
Overall, yoga is generally considered very safe. But there are some situations in which yoga can pose a risk. Check with a doctor or other health care provider before starting a new yoga program. This is especially important for those with certain health conditions, such as joint problems or a history of low back or neck pain. Also consult your health care provider before you begin yoga if you have any of the following conditions or situations, because complications can arise:
- Artificial joints
- Eye conditions, including glaucoma
- Hard-to-control high blood pressure
- Risk of blood clots
You still may be able to practice yoga in these situations, if precautions are taken. Instructors are trained in assisting practitioners in not exceeding personal limits, and encouraging you to avoid or modify certain yoga positions if they may cause undue strain. For instance, pregnant women would avoid any poses that put pressure on the uterus, such as those that require one to twist at the waist.
What Causes Stress?
Feelings of stress are caused by the body's instinct to defend itself — the classic “fight or flight” response, leaving you breathless, with heart pounding and mind racing. From deep within the brain, a chemical signal speeds stress hormones throughout the bloodstream, priming your body to be alert and ready to escape danger. Concentration becomes more focused, reaction time speeds up, and strength and agility increase. When the stressful situation is over, hormonal signals switch off the stress response and the body returns to normal.
This stress response has served well in pre-historic emergencies, such as getting out of the way of a saber-toothed tiger. However, in today’s fast-paced world, there are a number of challenges and changes that can expose us to stress on a chronic basis, with stress hormones staying in our system, never leaving the blood and tissues. If left unchecked, stress can lead to numerous health problems, including obesity, heart disease, cancer, and substance abuse.
Change of any type can make one feel stressed, even what is considered “good” change, such as going off to college, getting married, buying a house, or having a baby. It is not just the change or event itself, but also how you react to it that matters. What is stressful varies from person to person. For example, one person may feel stressed by retiring from a 40-year career, while someone else may not.
Other things that may serve as stressors include being laid off from a job, having a child leave or return home, divorce or marriage, the death of a spouse, an illness, an injury, a job promotion, and money problems.
What are Common Symptoms of Stress?
It is important to learn how to recognize when you are feeling stressed, because people can experience stress quite differently. Early warning signs of stress may include tension in the shoulders and neck or clenching ones hands into fists.
Others symptoms include:
- Back pain
- High blood pressure
- Relationship problems
- Shortness of breath
- Stomach upset
- Weight loss or gain