Why is yoga a stress reliever?

I believe that yoga is one of those practices that arise discussion and controversy. Some people swear by it, whereas others don’t believe it’s really useful. I’ve personally had an on-and-off relationship with yoga. I’ve tried several techniques, and I think that’s very important. Not all yoga styles and techniques are for everyone. For example, Bikram yoga is not for me — hot rooms and exercise are not to my taste — but I have a good friend who loves it because she can really disconnect from the world when she’s there. I prefer Hatha yoga, which helps with strength and flexibility and uses a lot of breathwork.  

I’ve been very stressed out lately. So much so that I’ve even gained some weight (yes, stress can do that. I’ll write about it in an upcoming post). So, in addition to some changes in my diet, I had to add activities that helped reduce my stress levels. When you’re always active and asking a little too much of your body you activate the sympathetic nervous system, but the body needs a balance, and to get it you must make sure to activate the parasympathetic nervous system too, which is in charge of rest and relaxation. Breathwork is a great way to do it, but I’ve also added yoga to the mix, which lets me dive deeper into a full mind and body relaxation experience. 

You’ve probably heard that yoga helps with stress relief. I’d heard of it too, so I tried it in college and in different moments of my career — hence the on-and-off relationship — but I guess it didn’t stick before because I didn’t know what was the relation between yoga and stress. I constantly wondered what made yoga better than other forms of exercise for this matter, and if it was really helpful or just something people say. So this time around I decided to research and read studies that explain the science behind yoga vs stress.

The reason why yoga is better to combat stress than other types of exercise is that it combines three key factors in every practice: exercise, breathwork and mindfulness. Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means unity of mind and body, so all of the poses, pace and practices make sure that not only our bodies, but also our minds remain in the present moment. Because of this, yoga can help reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, which eventually causes other health benefits, like lowering your blood pressure and combating inflammation. 

Exercise

Not just yoga, but any type of exercise helps relieve stress. This is because it releases endorphins, which are the natural hormones that make you feel good. Exercising also boosts your energy, improves your mood and promotes good sleep, all of which help reduce your stress levels. And this isn’t just heavy, sweaty exercise, it also applies to stretching — an important part of yoga practices. 

Breathwork

Breathing intentionally is a way to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and, thus, promote relaxation. Yoga exercises match breathing with the movement of the body. This makes you aware of your breath and helps you control it better. Deep breaths are especially effective to reduce stress and anxiety almost immediately, so quick access to feeling better. Most yoga practices begin with a few deep breaths and continue to control breathwork throughout the session. 

Clear mind

The practice of yoga is about being in the moment. Poses, mantras (like the famous om) and breathwork keep our minds in the current activity. This is a great break to stay away from thoughts about the future (and your never ending to-do list) or about the past (and all the “what if” worries). These types of thoughts tend to cause stress, especially when we feel powerless and overwhelmed, so having space from them will help you relieve stress and address these issues with a clearer mind when it’s time.

And lastly, most yoga sessions end with a few minutes of rest, lying on your back, perhaps meditating, which is an extra boost for relaxation.

So, in celebration of International Yoga Day (June 21), try it out! It’s a great excuse to practice and share your experience. Already a yoga fan? Share your favorite poses, videos and tips! For a little extra encouragement, here’s a video I love for beginners. Yoga with Adriene is my favorite YouTube yoga channel! 

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