Stretching, breathing, chilling – yoga has been around for thousands of years and has always had undertones of spirituality, calm and understanding. The exact origins of yoga are unknown, but mentions of the practice have been found in the world’s oldest text:theRig-Veda, an ancient Indian compilation of hymns that is roughly 3000 years old.
Originally, it seems, yoga was seen as a healing art and was used to gain a wider understanding of the spiritual world. But in relatively recent years, yoga has been used as a tool to better know the self and achieve mindfulness, which may be one of the most important tools for managing and relieving stress.
So, let’s investigate yoga – how exactly does yoga improve stress levels?
As medical professionals, masseurs and yoga practitioners will all tell you, the average modern western human doesn’t use their body enough. We spend the majority of our week sat at a work desk for upwards of 8 hours. After that, a large proportion of Americans drive home and resume sitting almost immediately.
Fitting exercise and movement into our daily routines is encouraged by doctors constantlyfor a multitude of reasons, both mental and physical. According to doctors, any movement is good movement. With the endorphins created by physical exercise, any movement is good for stress – so one that’s specifically designed to engage the whole body in a calm way is all kinds of beneficial.
Yoga routines such as ‘Salute the Sun’ engage all of the muscles in the body in a way that shouldn’t require too much exertion; so all those muscles that have been relentlessly stiffened by sitting get stretched out and activated.
With use, fresh blood and oxygen flows to muscles and, over time, rejuvenates them for a better sense of well-being.The American Osteopathic Association lists a wide range of physical benefits that come from practicing yoga movements, including improved muscle tone, energy and vitality.
Yoga is entirely different from other exercises because of its focus on both the body and the mind. One of the ways yoga links the two is through carefully guided deep breathing, which mustn’t be overlooked when fulfilling a yoga routine.
Deep breathing in yoga specifically counters stress symptoms. When we feel stressed, our body produces more adrenaline, which makes our breath quicker and more shallow. Yoga practitionershave their students breathe deeply and slowly, engaging their lower lungs to counteract the fight-or-flight stress response.
Deep breathing is an excellent tool for counter-acting stress and for general health and well-being. Breathing deeply into the diaphragm can slow the heartbeat and stabilize blood pressure, leading to a healthier body and mind, which all contribute to lowering stress levels.
Western society has started to use shallow breathing as the norm – deep breathing can spoil that ‘ideal’ flat stomach aesthetic and thus, many of us have been conditioned into feeling that deep breathing just doesn’t feel right. But shallow breathing can make us feel anxious, so getting out of the habit is great for stress levels. Yoga is an easy way to incorporate deep breathing in a guided or independent calm environment.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, but it’s preventable if we take the right precautions. Stress can cause high blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms, which are no good when you want to keep your heart healthy.
Fortunately, yoga is a simple practice that scientists believe may be very effective in improving heart health. Whilst one session isn’t going to turn your heart from zero to hero, extended regular yoga sessions can lead to lower resting heart rates and blood pressure – two things that will make your doctor very pleased.
Stress, heart rate and blood pressure are something of a vicious cycle – they all seem to contribute to one another. If you have a high resting heart rate, you tend to be more likely to have a short fuse and become stressed, but if you suddenly become stressed, that in itself is a cause of high blood pressure.
With a regular yoga schedule in place, you can look forward to a healthier heart in the long run and calming sessions in the short run. Win-win.
There aren’t many exercise classes or teams that place quite so much emphasis on calmness and relaxation as yoga. That’s because a lot of yogis use yoga as a tool for mindfulness – the ultimate state of openness and calm.
Mindfulness has been endorsed by several doctors and psychiatrists in recent years is an excellent way to reduce current stress levels. Not only that, but those who practice mindfulness also exhibit lower stress levels in day-to-day life as well as better coping mechanisms for unexpected occurrences.
Two key aspects of mindfulness are awareness and breathing. Both of these aspects are put into effect during a yoga session, where one must be aware of their own body and breathing to fully complete their session.
Embracing mindfulness is one of the most effective ways to combat stress on a long-term basis and yoga is an accessible way to get started for beginners. Even those fully in touch with mindfulness continue to practice yoga as a method of staying in touch with themselves.
Stretch Away Your Stress
With a healthy focus on both body and mind, de-stressing is one of yoga’s most well-known attributes. As well as being a wholesome activity that improves your body’s overall health, a yoga session gives you time to escape your everyday worries – your attention should be wholly on your body and your breathing in the moment.
Its feel-good factor is high and the health benefits are great. Many working Americans will claim not having the time as a reason not to take part – but as little as fifteen minutes of yoga per day can improve your stress levels over time, so if you want to feel less stressed, there’s really no reason not to give it a try.