As stress and anxiety seem to be on the increase with the rise of unpredictable worldwide events, healthy coping skills are more important than ever before! Prolonged stress and anxiety can have wide ranging negative effects for the body, mind, and soul so it is very important to reduce these effects on an ongoing basis.
The Mind-Body Connection
Research has shown that prolonged stress can actually rewire your brain, weakening connections in some areas while strengthening others. After a while these effects can even lead to a higher risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia as well as a decrease of the weight of your brain! The primary short-term effects of stress and anxiety on cognitive functioning are decreased memory, learning, and general processing.
Many people believe that stress and anxiety will only impact their mind, but the mind and body are actually intimately connected. Biologically, your brain controls the release of hormones and other neural signals that go out into your bloodstream and impact or control all the other regions of your body as well. The primary impact of stress and anxiety on the body lie in the gastrointestinal, immune, and cardiovascular systems.
Within the cardiovascular system, extended stress and anxiety can lead to heart disease and if gone untreated can even result in a higher incidence of mortality. Stress and anxiety can also lead to reduced immune functioning, leaving you more prone to illness and disease. One of the most common symptoms of extreme stress and anxiety is stomach upset or gastrointestinal issues. Research suggests that prolonged stress beginning in childhood can even lead to gastrointestinal diseases, such as Crohn’s disease.
4 Ways to Relieve Stress through Yoga
Clearly stress and anxiety are bad for your body and mind. But thankfully there are many ways that you can combat these negative effects and improve your health!
The bulk of the research on yoga has been focused on its usage for treating anxiety and stress. In fact, one popular method developed in the realm of psychological science is called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). MBSR is a methodically designed 8-week course that incorporates the use of mindfulness meditation and yoga, primarily for the purpose of stress reduction. This method has been heavily researched, with significant benefits shown for a variety of physical and mental illnesses, ranging from depression and anxiety all the way to improving cardiovascular health and immune function!
As you can see, all of the negative impacts that stress and anxiety causes are directly combated by yoga and meditation! See below for the top 4 ways that yoga can help you to reduce your stress and anxiety:
1. Physical Postures (Asana)
The most popular and commonly practiced aspect of yoga is the physical postures or asanas, such as Downward-Facing Dog or Sun Salutations. Research has shown that any style of yoga asana can be effective at reducing stress and anxiety, but the most effective styles are Restorative Yoga and Yin Yoga. Restorative Yoga and Yin Yoga focus on relaxation of the body and mind rather than physical exercise. However, even Power Yoga or Vinyasa Yoga can be very effective for stress relief because these athletic classes release endorphins into your body that directly reduces stress and improves health.
The best yoga poses for reducing stress and anxiety are:
- Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) – The rhythmic flow of this practice provides you with a great form of exercise which releases those calming endorphins. Sun Salutations also incorporate linking movement with breath, which can help slow down and regulate your breathing and relax your mind.
- Corpse Pose (Savasana) – This pose is generally practiced at the end of a yoga class and is done in combination with meditation to greatly relax the body and mind.
- Child’s Pose (Balasana) – Child’s Pose is a popular pose used in yoga classes as a resting posture between more active poses.
As mentioned above, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a highly effective meditation and yoga-based program used to reduce the physical and mental effects of stress and anxiety. Even meditating for as short as 5-minutes per day through a mindful breath awareness or mantra meditation can greatly reduce the impacts of stress and anxiety!
3. Breathing Exercises (Pranayama)
Pranayama or breathing exercises are another core component of yoga that focuses on manipulation of the breath. Stress and anxiety often cause your breath to become faster, shorter, and shallower. But through pranayama exercises, or the manipulation of the breath, this can slow down your respirations and further oxygenate the body, thereby relaxing your mind and improving your health all in one! One popular and highly effective pranayama exercise for reducing stress and anxiety is Nadi Shodhana or Channel-Clearing Breath.
Yoga is not just an exercise form as many people know it to be, it also has an ancient and intricate system of philosophy as well! The primary tenant of yogic philosophy is the concept of impermanence. Impermanence is the belief that things in life come and go, so you should not let them affect your state of mind. Through the practice of radical acceptance, yoga teaches you to accept the things you cannot change but also inspires you to change the things that are still within your control. Yogic philosophy also emphasizes self-acceptance and self-compassion, which can radically transform your life and reduce stress and anxiety if put into practice!
How to maximize the extraordinary benefits of yoga
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Yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety in a variety of ways by calming the mind through meditation, releasing endorphins through exercise, and promoting self-compassion through yogic philosophy. The holistic nature of yoga targets all aspects of the body, mind, and soul in a single practice. This makes yoga highly effective for reducing stress and anxiety and promoting overall well-being. So, try one of the yoga practices suggested above to bring greater peace and serenity into your life today!
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