It's that time of year again and stress has become a fact of life for many of us. Demanding jobs, long commutes and never-ending family responsibilities make it difficult to relax and forget about our burdens for even a little while. Although some people find relief in medication for depression and anxiety, the drugs can have unpleasant side effects, such as drowsiness, headaches and fatigue. Yoga offers a completely natural way to manage stress and anxiety.
How Stress Affects Your Body
Stress not only makes you feel overwhelmed, anxious and irritable, but also causes symptoms that range from merely annoying to serious. When you feel stressed, the muscles in your neck, upper back, shoulder and head tense, causing muscle pain and headaches. Your eating habits can also change. Depending on the way you handle stress, you may overeat or even forget to eat. Exercise can help reduce your symptoms, but when you're feeling stressed, it's hard to find the time or energy to hit the gym.
When stress becomes a chronic problem, more serious health consequences can occur. Constant anxiety and stress can cause upset stomachs, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems. Stress interferes with proper immune system functioning. When your immune system doesn't work well, it's more difficult to fight viruses. If you do become ill, it may take longer than usual to get better.
Stress can also increase the risk of diabetes or heart disease. A recent study published in The Lancet noted that stress increases activity in the amygdala, the region of the brain that controls your body's response to emotions. When amygdala activity increased in study participants, the bone marrow produced more cells, which irritated the arteries and raised the heart attack risk.
Yoga Offers Natural Stress Reduction
Yoga isn't just a type of exercise, but a spiritual practice that helps your body and mind work in harmony. The combination of poses, meditation and deep breathing improves muscle strength and tone and decreases stress. The Lancet study also discovered that mindfulness meditation was an effective way to decrease activity in the amygdala.
When you perform poses, your blood pressure and heart rate lowers, and you may find breathing easier. Yoga may also help reduce pain, a contributing factor to stress. Performing yoga prompts your body to produce more serotonin, a natural chemical that helps you feel calm. Do you constantly worry about things you've done, things you need to do and things you should have done? Meditation requires you to clear your mind of all thoughts and focus only on your breathing.
Yoga gives you the tools you need to cope with stress whenever it occurs. You may not be able to perform downward facing dog in the middle of the office, but you can take a few minutes to breathe deeply and meditate when stress starts to build. One of the most important advantages of yoga is that it can be performed practically anywhere, from an office conference room to a campground. As long as you have space to unroll your mat, you can practice yoga.
Try These Yoga Poses
The next time stress hits, try one of these yoga poses:
Looking to get more out of yoga? Check out our yoga teacher training this Spring 2019!
PubMed Health: A Pattern of Brain Activity May Link Stress to Heart Attacks, 1/12/17
American Yoga Association: How Yoga Helps Reduce Anxiety and Manage Stress
Harvard Health Publications: Yoga for Anxiety and Depression, 4/09
Psychology Today: Yoga for Stress Relief, 12/8/15
AARP: Stress! Don’t Let It Make You Sick, 11/14
Hailing from East County San Diego, Kaleen Moran (she/her) is an English major at Cuyamaca College and a young yoga enthusiast. Her free time is spent out in nature, whether her feet are on the trail, nose is in a book, or notebook and pen are in her hands. She finds solace in mountain tops, her dogs and cat, books and poetry, good vegetarian food, and the loving embraces of her family and friends.
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