Stress is inevitable. And while we can’t keep life – and all the stress that comes with it – from happening, there are healthy ways to cope with stress, and one of them is yoga.
So, if stress is something you have to deal with, keep reading to learn why yoga just might be the perfect stress relief practice for you.
The stress hormone and how it impacts the body
You’re probably familiar with the stress hormone, cortisol. Under normal circumstances, cortisol gets released throughout the body to support muscle movement. But when you’re stressed, cortisol isn’t just released into the body. When you’re stressed, cortisol floods the body.
And while that’s helpful in acute situations, it’s unhealthy if this is a chronic problem. That’s because too much of the stress hormone, cortisol, can interfere with other hormones. And for women, hormonal imbalance can lead to a slew of problems, including PCOS, endometriosis, irregularities in the menstrual cycle, adrenal fatigue, and more.
Unfortunately, many people are under chronic stress thanks to the demands of daily life. This makes it hard for both the body and mind to unwind and relax. However, according to this study, yoga can help you do just that.
Yoga and the nervous system
The nervous system is made up of many different branches. One branch is divided into two parts, which you may have heard of before: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is a stressful state – when cortisol floods the body, creating that fight-or-flight feeling. Then, there’s the parasympathetic nervous system, which handles the body’s physiological functions, such as resting and digestion.
So, how does yoga come into play for both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems? Yoga uses breathing patterns, or pranayama, to help the body enter into the parasympathetic state, allowing both the body and mind to enter into a calmer, more relaxed state.
Pranayama breathing tips to relieve stress
Pranayama is simply another word for breathing techniques in the practice of yoga. And there are a couple pranayama exercises that offer sweet, sweet relief in times of stress.
Belly rise, belly fall
For this first pranayama exercise, simply lie on the floor or on your bed. Allow your body to feel heavy. Then, imagine a balloon inside of you. For every inhale, picture the balloon filling with air while you fill your ribs, chest, and lower belly with air.
Then, exhale naturally, allowing your imaginary balloon to gradually get smaller and smaller. You can repeat this for several minutes to create a calmer mind-body experience.
Alternate nostril breathing
When Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election, she turned to a form of pranayama called alternate nostril breathing. And after such a devastating loss, Clinton shared that she “found it quite helpful.”
Here’s what you do. Sit comfortably, either on the ground or on a chair. Just be sure you’re able to sit up straight. Then, take one hand and draw the middle three fingers into your palm, with only your thumb and pinkie fingers remaining.
Then, bring your hand up to your nose and cover your right nostril with your thumb, and inhale through your left nostril. Hold momentarily and then plug your left nostril with your pinkie finger and slowly exhale through your right nostril.
Repeat this for up to five minutes. And to really help your mind quiet itself, feel free to close your eyes. You’ll be amazed at how relaxed and chill you feel when you finish alternate nostril breathing.
Yoga can refocus the mind
We could say that yoga relaxes the mind. But the truth is, the mind isn’t on a holiday during yoga. Instead, when you’re practicing different poses, the easy thing to do is let your mind wander and worry – as it always does.
In yoga, you discipline the mind to focus on the physical postures, and to breath consciously throughout them. This is a mental effort! But it’s not stressful.
In fact, instead of stressing out about the past or the future, yoga places you gently in the present moment, where all you have to think about is the downward-facing dog you’re in.
Even the American Psychological Association encourages the practice of yoga to reduce stress and support mental health thanks to a growing body of research showing it’s positive psychological benefits.
Yoga promotes self-awareness
In life, when we’re faced with difficult situations, we usually just react without really observing our reaction. In yoga, you have the opportunity to see life play out in a microcosmic field.
For example, when you have a difficult pose to practice, what is your automatic response and reaction? Are you afraid? Do you get angry with yourself? What does your inner self-talk sound like?
Thanks to yoga, you can start to answer these questions and get to know how you handle difficult situations and challenges. On the yoga mat, you’ll learn to approach hard poses and sequences with more self-acceptance, self-compassion, and a bit of humor, too.
The best part is that you can start to take this mindset off the mat and bring it with you wherever you go. So, when those fight-or-flight moments come up, you might find yourself breathing deep and meeting the challenge head-on, just as you would during yoga.
Yoga helps to detox the body and mind
There are many postures that help to detox the body and mind. And this can provide much-needed relief since we store unresolved emotional energy throughout the body.
For example, some yoga postures help to release hips and shoulders, but they don’t just work on a physical level. They also help to free up the emotional energy that’s trapped in these physical places, too.
Twists are another great way to detox the liver and everything else that no longer serves us, such as stress, worry, beliefs, grudges, etc.
Commitment is key for relieving stress with yoga
When it comes to getting stress relief from yoga, it’s important to practice regularly. According to Sara Gottfried, MD, the author of The Hormone Reset Diet, “Improvement requires three to six months of regular practice for 30 to 60 minutes per day, five days a week. While all yoga styles may help, research has examined hatha yoga, pranayama (such as deep breathing), and meditation.”
Therefore, if chronic stress is a problem in your life, consider committing to a regular yoga practice for natural stress relief.