We live in a stressful world. As individuals, we’re faced with seemingly inexorable march of new technologies, strenuous personal relationships, and the persistent beat of a social drum. As a people, we grapple with a crowding planet, ills and afflictions of all kinds, and a plethora of other challenges, both natural and those created by our own hands.
It’s here that feelings of inadequacies, poverty, fear, and worry naturally accumulate, resulting in the feeling of stress. Adverse and challenging situations experienced both in life and mind create emotional strain, affecting out judgement and happiness. Though it sounds grim, it’s also quite natural.
Yoga provides a powerful tool in the fight against this stress. By approaching life and its challenges holistically, it helps support the body, the mind, and the extensions of the self in many ways. Yoga is so effective at combating stress, that even many modern medical practitioners recognize and tout the benefit of this historically alternative form of medicine.
Physical Well Being Begets Stress Reduction and Coping
Yoga provides a moderate, yet challenging exercise for your joints, ligaments, and muscles, as well as you sense of balance and posture. Like with any exercise, this means that by practicing yoga your improving the strength and control of these muscles. Yoga tones this muscle mass, improving joint health and flexibility, and increases physical stamina and even strengthens the spine. This is all good news for those seeking a healthy regimen to follow, but yoga does much more than this: we’re talking about the brain and nervous system.
First, yoga has shown to stimulate brain activity in an incredible way, increasing both mental ability to take in and manage information. Researchers argued that by performing just 20 minutes of Hatha yoga, participants showed improved “speed and accuracy on tests of working memory and inhibitory control, two measures of brain function associated with the ability to maintain focus and take in, retain and use new information.” What’s more, yoga also has shown to modulate stress response systems, decreasing physiological stress related activities – lowering blood pressure, improving heart rate variability, and even increasing your pain tolerance.
This very real internal set of benefits – related to both to the mind and autonomic processes in the body – mean that yoga as an exercise alone can help fight the stress of daily life.
A Calmed Mind
It’s important to realize that your physical and mental well beings depend on each other. They operate in nature similarly to the two sides of a coin – both clearly different, but also part of the same system. In the same ways that yoga benefits the body, it also benefits the mind.
Here, a psychological practice outside of the normal asanas of Hatha yoga comes into play (of course, they can be and often are practiced at once!). In yoga, there is an astute focus on specific sets of principles and practices by which a yoga should live by in order to reach his/her enlightenment. These range from small lessons, to specific rules known as Yamas. In each lesson – from the practice of asking yourself what has brought you to your mat, then letting it go before practice, to practice complete non-injury to all beings – yoga encourages one thing most of all: a calm mind. There is an understanding in yoga that argues the loudness of our minds and the distractions of our lives are what prevent us from reaching true enlightenment and understanding. The answers to our questions are already inside of us.
Relieving Stress with Yoga
Yoga has been effective at managing stress for thousands of years, with yogis deriving lessons and understanding from its texts since their writings. Modern science validates the physiological benefits of yoga, from the building of muscles to the literal ability to withstand more pain and stress. Holistically, yoga makes for the perfect complement to any healthy lifestyle, and most of all, it makes for one of the finest tools in the utility belt to beat and manage stress.