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Yoga for Stress

Posted Mar 11 2010 8:37pm

As our world gets more and more complex and the flow of information continues to speed up with newer and faster technology, people’s stress levels continue to rise. Computers, cell-phones, pagers and fax machines keep us connected and on-call 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week.

Is there any escaping the information overload as we multi-task our way through our days? Or the demands competing for our time—the kids need to be driven to practice, your boss wants the report by 5:00 PM, and your spouse is wondering what’s for dinner. As our minds race to keep up, tension builds in our bodies, leaving us feeling mentally overwhelmed and physically depleted.

When times are most stressful, we may stop doing the things that nourish us and engage in unhealthy behaviors. We may overeat and/or fail to eat well; we may not get enough sleep, we may even become dependent on alcohol, cigarettes or caffeine to power us through our days.

According to The National Mental Health Association, 75 to 95 percent of all doctor visits are stress related. Stress has been linked to many health conditions and illnesses including chronic headaches, backaches, weight gain, high blood pressure, sexual dysfunction, ulcers, insomnia, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and heart disease.

Common psychological responses to stress include anxiety, depression, anger, irritability, and decreased ability to concentrate and retain information.

What we refer to as ’stress’ is actually the body’s natural response to a perceived physical or psychological threat that causes a chain reaction of chemical and hormonal changes in the body, commonly referred to as the ‘flight or fight’ response.

Adrenaline and cortisol are released into the blood stream, heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up, pumping more blood to the heart and muscles and shutting down all non-essential functions.

This reaction is important to self-preservation and can protect us in dangerous situations. However, when the stress response becomes habitually engaged because of chronic physical and/or mental stress, the entire body suffers leading to depression of the immune system, weakening of the entire body, and ultimately disease.

The benefits of exercise in diminishing the stress response are widely touted. A host of studies points to the benefits of such exercise. Yoga, a form of mind-body exercise, with its various postures designed to stretch and strengthen the body, controlled breathing exercises and guided relaxation components has become a popular method for stress management.

  • Improved muscular strength and flexibility while releasing stored muscular tension
  • Increased blood circulation and oxygen uptake
  • Focused attention as you concentrate on moving your body helps the cares and worries of your busy day literally fade away
  • Increased relaxation
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased energy
  • Increased coping skills
  • Decreased production of stress hormones
  • Increased feeling of well-being
  • Increased endorphin (‘feel good’ hormones) production
  • Improved mood
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Improved digestion and elimination

Every successful exercise program, including yoga for stress relief, begins with a few simple steps.

  1. Consult With Your Doctor
    Before getting started with yoga for stress relief, consult with your health care provider, especially if you have a history of heart disease or other risk factors.
  2. Start Slowly
    Build your yoga for stress relief practice gradually. Early enthusiasm can lead to overdoing it and even injury. If you begin your program slowly, the chances are better that you’ll stick with it.
  3. Find A Class, Teacher, or Style Of Yoga You Love
    There are lots of different styles of yoga being taught, from very gentle to extremely vigorous. Find what resonates with you. If you are in good physical shape and want something challenging Bikram, Iyengar, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, or Power may be for you.If you want to work gently and move slowly, look for a class labeled Gentle, Basics, Anusara, Restorative, or Viniyoga.
  4. Pick A Time And Stick To It
    Dedicating some time to practice every day will help you make your yoga program an ongoing priority. Let a routine develop.
  5. Create A Quiet and Comfortable Place To Practice
    This may include asking for cooperation from others to ensure that you will not be disturbed.
  6. Be Gentle
    Do not push yourself or try too hard. Be gentle and persistent in your efforts, not overzealous or forceful.
  7. Be Patient
    Trust in your self and in the process, allowing your practice to develop. Bring your attention back to what is happening in each moment instead of focusing on some preconceived goal or expected result. It takes time but it is worth it.
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