5 Reasons Yoga Helps Reduce Stress
You can really bend your way to a calmer mood. Here’s how.
• Yoga uses slow and deep belly breaths to lower your body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
• Yoga encourages people to practice “mindfulness,” which can help combat stress over the long-term.
• Non-impact moves help get the stress-relieving benefits of physical exercise.
When you’re stressed to the max, climbing onto the yoga mat might not be your first move. But for some, it could be a smart one. Stress can contribute to headaches, and taking steps to reduce stress may help some people avoid them.
Here are five ways yoga can reduce your stress — both in the studio and on-the-go.
It Deepens Your Breathing
There’s a reason people say, “take a deep breath.” Deep breathing literally slows your sympathetic nervous system, which acts a lot like a gas pedal for your body, says Donielle Wilson, ND, CPM, CNS, author of The Stress Remedy. Yoga uses slow — and most importantly, deep — belly breaths to lower your body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol as well as supply your brain with more of the oxygen it needs to work at its best. The result: You’re calmer and better able to solve the problems causing you stress.
It Teaches Mindfulness
When people are stressed, it could be because they’re dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Yoga, however, encourages people to pay attention to their feelings in the present moment, a skill often termed “mindfulness.” Practicing mindfulness techniques within your yoga practice — and then implementing them throughout the day — can help combat stress over the long-term, Wilson says. In fact, one study in the American Journal of Health Promotion found that people significantly reduced their stress levels after participating in an eight-week program in which they learned, practiced, and applied “mindfulness meditation” to daily life situations. Even better, the participants maintained the stress-slashing results three months later. 1
It Improves Sleep
Stress and sleep (or rather a lack thereof) is a vicious cycle. Stress can throw off your sleep, which, in turn, makes you even more stressed, Wilson says. Yoga can help break the cycle. In one study, researchers found that chronic insomnia patients significantly improved the number of hours they slept each night — as well as the quality of that sleep — after practicing yoga for just eight weeks. 2
It Gets You Moving
Exercise is becoming increasingly popular among the medical community as a treatment for down-in-the-dumps symptoms such as stress and anxiety. However, high-intensity exercise can temporarily increase your cortisol levels, which may put your body (and perhaps even your mind) under additional stress, Wilson says. Gentle forms of yoga, however, use non-impact moves to help get the stress-relieving benefits of physical exercise without triggering the release of stress-related hormones.
It Lulls You With Music
The music in your yoga class can quite literally set your mood. Research in the Journal of Music Therapy shows that listening to relaxing music (like that played in pretty much every yoga studio) reduces stressors’ effects on anxiety, heart rate, and blood pressure. 3 How? Music can reduce cortisol levels while prompting your body to produce feel-good endorphins, Wilson says.
1. Kimberly A. Williams, Maria M. Kolar, Bill E. Reger, and John C. Pearson (2001) Evaluation of a Wellness-based Mindfulness Stress Reduction Intervention: A Controlled Trial. American Journal of Health Promotion: July/August 2001, Vol. 15, No. 6, pp. 422-432.
2. Sat Bir S. Khalsa Treatment of Chronic Insomnia with Yoga: A Preliminary Study with Sleep-Wake Diaries. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback: December 2004, Vol. 29, pp. 269-278. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10484-004-0387-0
3. Wendy E. J. Knight and Nikki S. Rickard Relaxing Music Prevents Stress-Induced Increases in Subjective Anxiety, Systolic Blood Pressure, and Heart Rate in Healthy Males and Females J Music Ther (2001) 38 (4): 254-272.