The word yoga, comes from Sanskrit root yuj that means join, bring together or attach. And yoga does just that in bringing together one’s mind, body and spirit. There are many reasons people do yoga, but it comes down to benefiting the mind, body and soul, which is really important in reducing stress. That is why using yoga for stress relief is becoming more popular.
There are many health benefits of doing yoga for stress relief including:
- Reduced stress
- Reduced emotional distress
- Reduced anxiety and muscle tension
- Better sleep
- Reduced cortisol levels
- Lower blood pressure and heart rate
- Help with quitting smoking
- Spiritual growth
- Improved sense of well-being
- Help with post-traumatic stress disorder
- Pain relief and reduced tension in the body
How Yoga for Stress Relief Works
There are several yoga techniques that help in reducing stress and anxiety:
- Controlled breathing
- Physical movement
- Mental imagery
Doing yoga for stress relief works by promoting relaxation, providing exercise (which is another natural way to manage stress) and by loosening tense muscles. Many people carry their stress in their neck, shoulders and back. This can lead to pain and headaches. Other people carry this stress in their pelvic muscles, leading to years of ongoing pelvic tension and chronic pelvic pain. The latter is challenging to treat because many people and doctors don’t realize the connection between their stress/mental health and the pelvic muscles. Yoga helps with that connection. Other parts of the body that can benefit from yoga for stress relief include facial muscles, the jaw (from clenching), fingers or wrists.
You can apply the techniques you learn in yoga to stressful situations, helping to lower anxiety and stress levels. When you do yoga you focus on your body, mind and breathing. Yoga brings you into the moment rather than worrying about the past and future. You prevent your brain from wandering into stressful territory. The breathing training in yoga can help you use your breathing to manage a stressful situation. Whenever you feel tension in yoga, try to focus your breathing and send your breath to the area that feels tense or tight. Try to release that tension. You can apply that technique in managing stress as well.
Do yoga before stressful situations such as:
- Taking a test
- Giving a speech
- Giving a performance
- Attending an important meeting
- Going to bed (if you have trouble sleeping)
- Starting your day (especially if you have stressful, chaotic mornings)
If your family morning routine is stressful, as it is in many houses, try the 3-minute yoga technique to kick start your family’s morning and help everyone to stay calm and focused for greater success in their achieving their goals for the day. Doing yoga as a part of a bedtime routine can help you relax and clear your mind for better sleep.
One of the causes of stress and anxiety is living with chronic pain. Many people looking for a natural alternative for managing their pain use yoga for pain relief. Researchers are finding that stress not only causes pain but also increases one’s sensitivity to pain. A study on the effect of yoga on the stress response in relation to pain was done at the University of Utah. Researchers presented results from a study of varied participants’ responses to pain. The researchers noted that people who have a poorly regulated response to stress are also more sensitive to pain. The subjects were 12 experienced yoga practitioners, 14 people with fibromyalgia (a condition many researchers consider a stress-related illness that is characterized by hypersensitivity to pain), and 16 healthy volunteers.
Researchers subjected the three groups to a painful thumbnail pressure. The participants with fibromyalgia perceived pain at lower pressure levels compared with the other subjects. Functional MRIs showed they also had the greatest activity in areas of the brain that are associated with pain response. In contrast, the yoga practitioners showed the highest pain tolerance and the lowest pain-related brain activity during the MRI. The study shows the value of techniques like yoga that can help a person regulate stress and, therefore, pain responses.
Yoga is an overall low-risk activity, and most people should be fine with taking a yoga class with an experienced yoga instructor. If you suffer from back or neck pain, be sure to check with your doctor before starting any new yoga program.