How does Yoga help release stress?
Whether it is disturbed sleep, high blood pressure, ulcers, digestive problems, anxiety, depression or frequent colds, the root cause is in many cases too much stress. While intuitively many think of yoga as a stress relief it is not always clear how the two are linked.
As a clinical nutritionist and yoga teacher I have deep respect in both the energetic & biochemical impacts a (asana) physical yoga practice has in our body. In this article I will focus though on the biochemical pathways involved.
Yoga and Stress Relief
Our body’s response to stress is delivered by the adrenal glands - 2 pyramid-like small organs sitting on top of our kidneys. During a yoga practice, twists and forward and back bends, stretch the muscles surrounding the internal organs and sequentially give the organs a massage. This action can
help the organs get activated if in a dormant state. Both the thyroid and adrenals can be mobilised and help us produce the hormones necessary to deal with stress.
An indirect, yet very common effect, of the internal organ massage is the benefits achieved in the digestive health. Part of our digestive health depends on the muscles surrounding the intestines. By moving these muscles, digestive health can improve and regular bowel movements can be achieved. That effect on its own can result in a domino effect of positive results such as: good nutrient absorption, higher energy levels and better weight management.
During a yoga practice a practitioner needs to put her/his body in postures which are slightly uncomfortable. Instinctively, most people stop breathing when they get in that state. Of course this response cannot last for long. With time, people learn how to breath while in an awkward place. The
same reaction they can later copy in other social or personal stressful moments.
Diaphragmatic breathing (db), practiced during yoga, increases the air volume one gets in her body and supports better oxygenation of all tissues but most importantly of the brain. Low levels of oxygen can be a big stressor for the body. That can be reversed by only a few rounds of db.
It’s not only the conscious inhalations though that can help with stress. Deep exhalations have been shown to activate the vagus nerve (a neuron connecting the brain with many organs, including the adrenals). Activation of the vagus nerve sequentially activates the parasympathetic nervous system allowing the body to calm down.
Depending on the style of yoga, the practitioner may have to move a lot (possibly continuously). As a result of that the cardiovascular system gets a workout improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients in all of our body tissue. As mentioned already good oxygenation of the body has anti-stress effects.
While the list of benefits yoga has is much longer the above are the ways in which yoga helps us chill.
How to find a yoga class
Anastasis, the author of this blog, offers yoga classes in Soho, but there are also Yoga classes all across the UK available on Yoga Class Near You.
Whether you are looking for a beginner's yoga class, a pregnancy yoga class or a seniors yoga class, there is sure to be something that suits you.
Simply download the NearYou App and enter your location to find your nearest yoga teacher or yoga studio.
Download the App here.