It’s no secret that stress takes quite a toll on our health. Luckily, yoga is here to help! Here’s more about how stress can effect you, and how yoga can help you combat this common health issue.
Any situation the body perceives as dangerous or threatening triggers a stress or “fight or flight” response in the body. Originally, this response was designed to help us outrun (or fight off) physical threats. But unfortunately, the body treats modern threats such as financial problems or relationship conflict the same way, which is where the problems occur.
The body’s efforts to deal with a threatening situation (either actual or simply perceived) include a series of physical reactions. The heart accelerates to provide maximum oxygen levels to organs and cells. The muscles tighten and shorten to prepare for action, to maneuver through the situation, to fight or to flee from the danger. Adrenaline courses through the body heightening awareness and providing a quick burst of energy.
The automatic stress response serves an immediate purpose (or it did in our caveman days). However, chronic stress, which occurs when you remain in a stress response state for a prolonged period of time, takes a negative toll on the body. Long-term stress causes physical and psychological distress, which have detrimental effects on your overall health and well-being.
The Dangerous Effects Of Stress
• 43% of all adults suffer from health problems because of stress.
• 75% to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
• Stress is a key contributor to heart disease, headaches, body aches, high blood pressure, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, anxiety, and depression.
• The 50% prevalence of any emotional disorder is typically due to untreated stress.
• The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that stress is a significant hazard in the workplace and results in costs of over $300 billion annually.
• The digestive system may experience stress as stomach aches, nausea, and intestinal irritability.
• Mentally, a person under chronic stress may experience racing thoughts, unreasonable worrying, lack of focus and disorganization and pessimism.
• Stress associated behaviors, overeating or undereating, avoidance and displaying nervous behaviors like nail biting and pacing emerge under chronic stress.
• Stress related aches and pains could occur in different parts of the body. When the muscles shorten or tighten to prepare for action within the stress response then remain that way, it causes aches and pains in different parts of the body.
Yoga and Stress-Related Aches and Pains
Essentially, yoga acts as a therapeutic antidote to stress; it provides physical, mental, and emotional relief to people experiencing chronic stress. Relief often occurs immediately during the actual yoga practice and when practiced regularly, the beneficial effects of yoga may continue for some time after your yoga session.
Yoga poses ease stress related aches and pains caused by muscular tension. Most yoga poses help to stretch, lengthen, strengthen, and relax tense muscles. The meditation and breathing exercises that are common in many yoga practices also calm the mind and the nervous system, and allow you to reestablish mental focus and clarity during and following practice.
The breath work and poses practiced during yoga elicit the relaxation response in the body, which helps to decrease and regulate stress hormones.
It is also important to note that yoga has been found to have a profound effect on various other aspects of one’s health, including the ability to lower blood pressure, prevent heart disease, help regulate blood sugars in diabetes, and decrease anxiety, all of which are commonly seen with chronic stress.
How To Utilize Yoga Effectively To Manage Stress
If you intend to develop a yoga practice as part of a stress management plan, consistency is key to success. Yoga provides progressive therapy when done consistently over time.
The poses reshape and improve the health and functionality of the muscles, the joints and organs over time; it is a form of training and as with any training, regular practice sets the stage for progress.
This also applies to the meditative and relaxation exercises associated with the practice. According to Dr. Debra Fulghum Bruce, PhD, recent studies show as little as three months of weekly yoga practice relieves stress-related headaches, backaches, reduces stress, and lowers cortisol (stress hormone) secretions. It also lowers blood pressure and improves the participant’s mood.
Practicing yoga has been shown to relieve the immediate symptoms of stress related aches, pains, mental distress, and negative emotional states. It also appears to effectively counter the fight or flight stress response by lowering cortisol levels and teaching the mind to observe (through meditation) rather than react to situations.
People experiencing chronic stress can benefit greatly from incorporating a yoga practice in their health regimen. You can get started with yoga by joining a class that is led by a qualified instructor. There are also many good instructional yoga programs available on DVD. However you choose to practice, be sure you do seek training from a qualified instructor as it is very important to learn the proper techniques and breath work for each pose to reap all the benefits yoga has to offer.