April is National Stress Awareness Month and it’s no real wonder that we need it: According to a survey by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, seven out of ten adults experience stress or anxiety on a daily basis. Regular exercise, communicating with friends and family, and getting more sleep all help manage stress, but if you’re still feeling the heavy weight of anxiety, you may want to pick up a mat and give yoga a try.
What Is Stress?
Stress is the brain’s response to any demand. Many events can trigger this response from your body: health concerns, pressure at work, and even excitement. Not all stress is bad; it can actually be life-saving in some circumstances. When you face something that your body perceives as dangerous, your pulse quickens, your muscles tense, and your brain uses more oxygen to increase activity and protect yourself in life-threatening situations.
However, when you are under constant pressure, your body will suppress functions that aren’t needed for immediate survival. That is why people under chronic stress typically fall ill more frequently, and often experience digestive problems and muscle tension. Many also report headaches, sleeplessness, and general irritability. Over time, this continued strain could lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses.
How Yoga Relieves Stress
The combined mind-body benefits of yoga allow this form of exercise to help you in a variety of ways. The two main components of the practice are postures and breathing. Yoga postures, also called poses, are designed to increase strength, flexibility, and balance. They vary from gentle and relaxing to challenging and physically strenuous. Most people can benefit from any form of yoga, so the intensity level can be determined by your personal preference.
Any form of physical activity is helpful in managing stress, but what makes yoga unique is its focus on deep breathing in tandem with physical activity. According to a Harvard study, by combining exercise with relaxation techniques, yoga modulates and regulates the body’s natural response to stress, leading to improved mood and functioning. The controlled breathing involved in yoga also shows promise for providing relief to those with depression.
In addition to managing stress, yoga has also been shown to reduce risk factors for chronic diseases such as heart disease and high blood pressure while improving overall fitness, leading to improved balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength. It can also relieve chronic lower back pain, but if you struggle with certain postures, you can supplement your yoga practice with the use of ActivAided.
Stress is a part of life, so by finding new ways to manage your reactiveness, you can establish healthy habits that benefit both the mind and body. Take a few deep breaths and use this National Stress Awareness month to address your stress through the mindfulness and relaxation of yoga.