Stress is the cause of many chronic illnesses, and the effect of others. Chronic stress can lead to a decrease in activity of the immune system, leading to other diseases and health problems. Yoga, practiced in any of its forms helps dissolve stress and promote thoughts of health and well-being. In this way, practicing yoga has a positive impact on health. There are several types of yoga, each with a different focus. Yoga can revolve around spiritual teachings, a philosophy of service to others, acquisition of knowledge, and athleticism. A yoga style that focuses on breathing and stretching poses, each of which counter the effects of stress on the body.
Effects of Stress on the Body
An article posted by the Yoga Alliance, the certification organization for Yoga instructors, points out that stress can be caused by “positive” and “negative” things. Holidays, the birth of a baby, family vacations, and a promotion at work all are good things, overall. However, the pressure associated with such situations can be as intense as pressure associated with events such as a family illness or death, being fired or laid off, and other situations. A one-time event passes, and effects of stress on the body are minimal—add up everything, and you have a recipe for chronic stress, made up of isolated events.
Stress in the body triggers a “fight or flight” reaction. Hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin dump into the bloodstream and flood muscles. Short term bursts of adrenaline are helpful because that and other physiological reactions allow the person to escape harmful situations. Long term, chronic stress causes as much damage to the human body as do other chronic diseases. Practicing Yoga helps reduce stress levels because it teaches breathing techniques and other self-soothing, calming techniques.
Below, you can see a sample of relaxation and breathing exercises by yoga instructor Rodney Yee.
Countering the Effects of Stress
Practicing Yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which has the opposite effect of stress. The parasympathetic system promotes feelings of calm. Certain poses are more beneficial health-wise than others. Savasana, or the relaxation pose, focuses on breathing, which triggers relaxation. The Mayo Clinic promotes Hatha Yoga as a way to achieve a calmer mind, improved flexibility, and a time to focus on oneself, rather than the world at large. Yoga is particularly helpful in alleviating caregiver stress for those caring for seriously ill or impaired relatives. A 2005 study by Mark Anders of ACE, showed that practitioners of Hatha Yoga experienced increases in physical ability and self-confidence.
Physical and Psychological Benefits of Yoga
Yoga benefits the mind and body. Yoga principles teach visualization and calming techniques that benefit everyone when faced with difficult situations. Stress reactions cause shallow, rapid breathing. Yoga helps people learn to control their breathing and physiological reaction to stress. Yoga aids in lowering blood pressure, weight loss, improved sleep, and management of chronic health conditions, which cause stress themselves. The Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program or MBSR based at the University of Massachusetts Medical School utilizes yoga as part of its overall programs for patients. The program focuses on treating medical conditions holistically, and yoga is an integral part.
No matter the health issue, yoga is a powerful way to reduce stress and improve quality of life.