As yoga continues to penetrate the mainstream, more and more people are delving into this experience and reaping its rewards. If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you know that there are many physical benefits to being on the yoga mat for your favorite yoga flow.
Can yoga reduce stress and anxiety? The answer is an astounding yes! Besides the physical aspect, this is another reason people are giving a go-to yoga: to reduce the effects of stress and anxiety, improve mental stability, gain clarity of mind.
In this article, we will take a closer look at what stress is, how it affects the brain, and why yoga is so effective in reducing stress?
The other side of yoga
Most people turn to yoga initially because they want to improve something about their bodies:
- to become more flexible in their legs,
- to build a stronger core,
- to gain more endurance strength.
These and many other intentions can become a realistic outcome of the physical practice if repeated regularly.
After your first yoga class, you could most likely feel that there is something more to yoga than being a physical activity. You felt calmer, happier, you noticed you had fewer racing thoughts in your mind, and even – maybe – had a gentle smile on your face after your long, stressful day!
Everyone, who has experienced amazing benefits of yoga for Mental well-being, was wondering and looking for the answer to the simple question:
Can yoga actually help with stress?
Let’s take a look at stress and how particular styles of yoga can help reduce stress.
Stress is a normal physiological response in the body that one may experience when there’s is a set of perceived negative changes in the environment. These responses may present themselves physically, mentally, and even emotionally.
It is important to remember that the stress response is actually a good thing: it’s a way the body signals to you that there is a potentially dangerous situation and you need to act.
You may be required to flee, fight, or freeze in these circumstances. In that preparation to act, your heart rate increases, you may get sweaty palms, and your muscles become tense, among other things. Unfortunately, many situations may trigger this response, even seemingly normal ones (i.e. paying bills, writing an essay, studying for a test, taking on unexpected responsibilities).
It’s not too uncommon to hear people say that they are stressed most of the time; it has become a “normal” state of being! If that is happening, your body is constantly in that fight or flight mode. That is not particularly good for your body or your brain.
Stress hormone – Cortisol
There is a hormone in the body that is introduced into the bloodstream when the stress response kicks in; it’s called Cortisol. When released into the body, Cortisol triggers those stress responses mentioned earlier:
- increase in heart rate,
- increase in blood pressure,
- muscle tension.
Some other symptoms to watch out for when you’re under a lot of stress are:
- teeth grinding,
- upset stomach,
In addition to this list, when Cortisol floods the bloodstream, it temporarily suppresses other bodily functions like digestion and reproduction. (This could make healthy eating, dieting, and sexual drive a concern to some people.)
Can chronic stress kill brain cells?
Stress can lead to memory loss, hypertension, and heart disease. Continuous stress can change the chemistry and functionality of the brain. It turns out that the one bodily response that is supposed to help you in a life-threatening situation can actually be life-threatening!
Can yoga play a significant role in self-healing?
So now that you know more about the damage that stress can create, what can you do to remedy these outcomes and feel better?
The simple act of getting a yoga mat and starting an online class allows your mind to focus entirely on the physical practice while removing the distracting thoughts that often lead to stress.
As a yoga teacher provides detailed instruction and direction, your intention is to merely pay attention; your mind is directed to the present moment. As you listen to the directions and move your body from pose to pose, your focus remains on yourself: the body flow and the breath.
During a yoga class, past and future thoughts become non-existent. This is a great way to relieve the body and mind of stress.
Can yoga increase the happiness hormone?
When you practice yoga, Cortisol is less likely to enter the bloodstream because there is no life-threatening circumstance to face. Instead, another set of hormones are introduced: dopamine and serotonin, to name a few.
These endorphins are associated with feeling happy; they can also trigger receptors in the brain that help reduce the perception of pain. When your body engages in healthy physical activity, the body releases these endorphins, often creating a feeling of “euphoria.”
Regular exercise, or regular yoga practice, can actually reduce stress and ward off feelings of anxiety and depression.
Is meditation an effective method of reducing stress?
Together with yoga, meditation is known to be a very effective tool for managing stress. While some people believe that meditation is not for everyone, it comes down to the simple fact that one has to find a suitable type of meditation.
How does meditation affect the brain?
There is a section of the brain called the amygdala; this is the area responsible for the stress response and the release of Cortisol. When this area overfires because of stress, this part of the brain increases, potentially creating more damage to the brain and body. In addition to this, another part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex, subsequently shrinks.
The pre-frontal cortex is associated with higher-order brain functions such as:
· thoughtful decision making,
Research suggests that activities like regular mindfulness meditation contribute to the amygdala’s shrinking (the opposite effect of too much stress), and the pre-frontal cortex grows. When you participate in activities that positively contribute to higher brain functions, such as yoga and meditation, you’re more likely to be able to manage stressful life situations.
Mindfulness meditation and yoga practice
In a mindfulness meditation and in yoga practice, you focus your attention on one thing, and this may be:
- your breath, Ujai sound, or quality of breath,
- a set of repeated words like a mantra.
These practices bring your attention to the present moment. When your mind actively focuses on a breath, for example, it keeps you from being distracted by thoughts of the past or future. As a result, your mind and body settle; they calm down.
Mindfulness meditation is a higher brain (pre-frontal cortex) function. And as mentioned earlier, triggering this type of brain function, stimulates pre-frontal cortex growth, more endorphin release, less cortisol release, more happy feelings, and, of course, less stress.
And to strip away the intimidation of meditation, you can make this practice very simple; it can be an accessible practice. There is no need, especially if you’re new to meditation, to sit in complete stillness and silence for hours. You can have a very effective practice by only taking a few minutes (literally 3 to 5 minutes) to focus on your breath or mantra.
Even a short meditative practice performed consistently over time can positively affect your brain, body, and overall well-being.
It makes sense to devote some personal time to a yoga practice if you feel that stress is catching up with you. Be it a physical practice on the yoga mat or a comfortable few minutes sitting and meditating. You can begin the process of reducing a good majority of stress and anxiety from your life. Now.