Drop and Give Me Zen: The Power of Yoga in Stress Reduction
When you think of yoga, what comes to mind?
For some, it might be familiar – you may consider yourself a bonafide “yogi” who sees yoga as not an exercise, but a way of life. You may have tried yoga before, own a pair (or several) of yoga pants, or know all the poses by heart.
For others, it might be intimidating or “not really your thing” – you may think that flexibility or balance is a prerequisite to getting the most out of it, that it’s not enough of a workout, or with everything you have going on in your life, it would be impossible to fit into your daily routine.
Regardless of where you may see yourself within this spectrum, yoga is actually for everyone! Yoga can be used as a way to connect with yourself, is portable (all you need is your body), and has been scientifically proven to reduce and relieve stress (Kirkwood et al., 2005; Pilkington et al., 2005).
Stress can wreak havoc on your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Practicing yoga is one way in which you can begin to find balance in these four essential health domains.
The Science of Yoga
So how can yoga actually reduce stress and help your brain function better? According to a study by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2013), researchers found that following yoga practice, participants were able to maintain better focus of their thoughts and process information quickly and more effectively when compared with participants who jogged on a treadmill. What the researchers found was that the breathing and meditative exercises that complimented the yogic movements helped to calm the mind and body. This helped to keep distracting thoughts away such as everyday stressors or anxieties while participants instead maintained focus on their bodies, posture, and breath.
Remember the ‘flight-or-fight’ response to stress? Well, yoga can actually modify your brains’ response to stress. Instead of experiencing increased heart and breathing rates, elevation of stress hormones, and muscle tension, yoga can bring you into the present moment, clear your mind, soften your muscles, and slow down your breathing through long and deep breaths. Other benefits of yoga can include the following:
More oxygen can reach your brain – which helps improves decision-making, mental clarity, digestion, and muscle mobility.
Your sleep will improve – yoga switches off your para-sympathetic nervous system which allows your body to relax.
You will feel grounded which brings peace of mind – in yoga, all that matters is the present.
In essence, yoga provides the antidote to your ‘flight-or-fight’ response. Put it more simply, yoga is medicine for your body and your mind.
Tips to Get You Started
If you’re hoping to make your life Ease-ier by incorporating yoga into your daily routine, we have compiled five tips to help get you started:
Go at Your Own Pace: We often set ourselves up for failure when we make drastic changes in our lives, particularly when they revolve around our health. You don’t have to choose the most complicated poses or attend a class every day. Instead, incorporate a few yoga poses while you wait for your coffee to brew, as part of a cool-down routine, or before you go to bed. Hold each pose for 5 breaths.
Practice Mindfulness: One of the benefits of mindfulness is that it can be practiced anywhere. Simple tasks like taking a shower or brushing your teeth can all be opportunities for mindfulness. In a future blog post, we will take a closer look at mindfulness so you can become an expert in no time.
Take it Outside: Yoga can be done anywhere and there is no better place to practice yoga than outside. Being surrounded by nature can be therapeutic on its own but adding in yoga can enhance that feeling even more. It is important to note that yoga is not restricted to the physical mat. Try incorporating moving meditation or mindfulness as you walk – this could include taking walks during lunch or even walking to catch transit. Remember to take deep breaths and focus on the present.
Be Creative: Seeing as yoga can be practiced anywhere, think about incorporating yoga in creative ways such as at your desk, while you’re waiting in line, in your car, or while you’re riding the subway. Remember to breathe and keep your focus in the moment.
We hope that these tips will helpful for you as you begin your journey practicing yoga. And remember, “When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.” – Author Unknown
Live life lighter,
Carolyn & Stephanie
Kirkwood, G., Rampes, H., Tuffrey, V., Richardson, J., & Pilkington, K. (2005). Yoga for anxiety: a systematic review of the research evidence. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(12), 884-891.
Pilkington, K., Kirkwood, G., Rampes, H., & Richardson, J. (2005). Yoga for depression: the research evidence. Journal of Affective Disorders, 89(1), 13-24.
Gothe, N., Pontifex, M. B., Hillman, C., & McAuley, E. (2013). The acute effects of yoga on executive function. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 10(4), 488-495.