Some days it feels like we can’t avoid stress or that anxious feeling that roots in the pit of our stomach. Our lives are becoming increasingly busy, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed – especially when we don’t take time for ourselves. Cue yoga. Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines physical poses, controlled breathing, meditation and relaxation. The practice can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower your heart rate. You don’t have to dive into a full-on 5-day-a-week practice to de-stress; it can be as easy as taking a moment, sitting in your car at a traffic light, to find your breath again. Here are five simple and easy-to-access methods for how you can use yoga to de-stress your life.
Just two 60-minute yoga classes a week is enough to notice an improved stress response. One study out of UCLA suggested that even just 12-minutes of chanting-based meditation helped reduce stress levels. When it comes to yoga, a little goes a long way.
Breathing, or pranayama , has a similar effect on our stress levels, as does a physical yoga practice. Taking 20 to 30 minutes a day to focus on abdominal breathing can reduce anxiety and stress, according to the American Institute of Stress. In an article on deep breathing , the Institute states that, “deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness.” If deep breathing is too overwhelming or uncomfortable for you, you can try simply noticing your breath. This helps to bring us back into the present moment and set aside the thoughts that are causing our stress.
As romantic relationships end, loved ones are lost and grief strikes our heart. These periods of time can add an enormous amount of stress to our lives. Incorporating a regular yoga practice to our day can not only help us heal in times of despair, using yoga as a “form of self-care will help you process your grief and recharge your emotional batteries,” says Seane Corn, a yoga instructor who leads Yoga for a Broken Heart workshops around the world. Moving your body with your breath releases feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin. It makes sense then that moving your body through a regular physical practice can decrease cortisol and adrenaline levels (chemicals that heighten our senses), helping to alleviate the stress, anxiety, and sadness that comes with heartbreak.
If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, despite regular physical activity and a healthy diet, stress and anxiety could be the culprit. Being in a state of physical overload can leave you feeling restless. That’s where a relaxing, cooling yin, restorative, or yoga nidra practice can help restore balance. Yoga nidra , also known as the science of yoga sleep, is a powerful, effective practice that puts the body in a state of consciousness between being awake and asleep. Similar to a guided meditation, yoga nidra calms the body’s fight-or-flight response and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Likewise, the long holds in yin and restorative practices help us to focus the mind. Restorative yoga is intended for a more relaxed practice, which is great to do before bedtime – or even while you’re in bed! Yin is designed to stretch out our deep tissues. This practice can be more stimulating, and is not always the best before bed. It will, however, be a nice complement to physical activity and ultimately help your body recover.
Blood-pressure levels are often linked to stress, but we can manage both with a little yoga. One study suggests that incorporating a simple yoga practice into your routine (as a complement to other blood-pressure treatment, if you are using such) can help to reduce blood pressure in a natural way.
The next time you find yourself tossing and turning in the middle of the night, feeling overwhelmed during a meeting, or just a little frazzled at the end of the day, try working through some pranayama , meditation or asana to help calm your stress levels.
*Note: We are not doctors, and we’re not trying to be. If your stress levels are a concern to you, please consult your physician for expert medical advice.
By Vanessa Kump, Inner Fire Luminary