Yoga and Chronic Stress

Stress is often described as a feeling of being overwhelmed, worried or worn-out. An extreme amount of stress can adversely affect the immune, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and central nervous systems. While most persons can overcome acute minor episodes of stress, chronic stress is constant and persists over an extended period of time. It can have a psychologically and physically debilitating effect on the body. Untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, depression, heart disease, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research has also shown that there is an association between acute and chronic stress and a person’s abuse of addictive substances.

It is important to find ways to navigate stressful situations and this is where yoga can be quite beneficial.

Relaxing Muscle Tension

When we are anxious our body can feel tense, particularly in the neck, shoulders, back, forehead and jaw. Yoga can help release this tension through calming and relaxing the body as one flows from pose to pose using the breath. Certain poses, dependent on the individual, can also be deeply calming on the entire body, e.g. Child’s Pose, forward bends, Corpse Pose.

Relaxing the Breath 

Anxiety often leads us to take shallow, quick breaths. When we slow and deepen our breathing, we relax the nervous system. Deep inhalation allows us to get more oxygen to our bodies while deep exhalation allows for relaxation. Focusing on breathing deeply from the diaphragm, even during the most challenging of poses, can transfer into one’s daily life in managing the most challenging of situations with the breath.

Relaxing the Mind

Chronic stress can cause the mind to become very busy with scattered, unfocused thoughts. Learning to focus the mind can help create stillness and calm and bring order to the mind. This can be achieved through meditation practice where the mind is allowed the chance to be still, quiet and clear. Over time the individual develops new habits towards a more relaxed internal state.

Greater Awareness & Control

Yoga helps us develop greater conscious awareness and greater mastery of our emotional responses. We gain a better understanding of how our mind works and are more conscious in our responses to emotional triggers. By developing greater awareness over mind patterns in response to stress, we give ourselves the opportunity to be less affected and to consciously choose another response. We can choose to be calm amidst the storms around us.

Greater Mind Body Connection

Moving from asana (pose) to asana (pose) with the breath, coupled with meditation helps create a greater connection between the mind and body. This allows one to feel whenever anything is off-balance and to bring the body/mind back to a state of harmony. Yoga teaches us to listen to our bodies and the practice encourages us to exist in the present moment and to live in a more mindful, conscious and connected way.

I am currently reading the book Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferris. It shares the tools, tactics and habits of several of the world’s top performers – entrepreneurs, athletes, artists, investors, etc. One shared similarity amongst many of them was a mindfulness or meditation practice, especially for setting the tone for the day or managing overwhelming situations. I’ll talk more about Yoga and Meditation/Mindfulness next week. Stay safe!

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