The daily grind can subject you to a lot of stress. Aside from work and studies, your relationship with people can also add up to negative emotions, particularly when things are not smooth sailing. In time, it can cause anxiety, drain you out and will eventually take a toll on your physical health and well-being. Physically, constant stress creates tension in your muscles and constricts your breathing. Emotionally, you will feel constant ups and downs and your mind will constantly overthink, leaving you feeling worse than ever.
Continuous exposure to stress can lead to a host of different problems in your health, cognitive functions, and behavior. Psychologically and emotionally, you might feel anxiety, fear, worry, anger, irritability, sadness, overwhelmed, isolated, and apathy. You might also experience being disoriented, memory loss, poor concentration, difficulties in making decisions, worrying about future disasters, anger outbursts, illogical reasoning and difficulty in communicating. For some people, they start having a heightened sense of humor or a feeling of euphoria, which is a defense mechanism to tell one’s self that everything is fine.
Your habits can also change when you are stressed. Suddenly, you might be eating more to compensate for what you have been feeling emotionally. You might also be eating less since past and future events worry you so much. Your sleeping patterns can also change and you might develop the tendency to sleep more or sleep less. Some also turn to substances and alcohol to numb themselves.
Physically, you will notice changes in weight, twitching and soreness of your muscles, lower back pain, fatigue, flaring up of allergies, hair loss, susceptibility to illnesses such as colds, headaches and migraines, and sweating. Women also notice changes in their menstruation with some having delayed periods while others experience shorter cycles.
Yoga is the most recognized form of exercise which combines aerobic exercises, stretching and meditation. It works around the premise of relaxation, deep breathing and focusing on a balanced and correct postural form. As an ancient art, it is defined as a “path of personal spiritual development” as it uses meditation to become more self-aware, enlightened and ultimately, to carve a path towards the connection of God and man. In its ancient form, the ultimate goal in doing yoga is to develop self-realization. Yoga is made up of different dimensions including breathing (Pranayama), posture (Asana), universal morality (Yama), personal observances (Niyama), withdrawal of the senses (Pratyahara), concentration (Dharana), meditation (Dhyana), and higher consciousness (Samadhi).
A study published by Harvard researchers in 2011 showed that more than 6.4 million of Americans have been advised to take yoga and meditation as a method to help cure stress and anxiety. Yoga incorporates meditation, which allows you to become more aware of your being, your posture and your breathing. When you are stressed, you tend to overthink and soon your mind and emotions get carried away. You are so focused on what bad things will happen in the future, and the more you think about it, the anxiety eats you up.
Through yoga, you will learn how to meditate, stay in the moment and become more aware of yourself in the present. The combination of both breathing techniques and mindfulness in yoga helps in keeping you anchored at your current state. When you are doing poses and practicing proper asana, it requires a lot of physical and mental concentration. You need to focus intently on what you are doing with your body and through this process, you become more self-aware. You will be concentrating on your breathing techniques and disengaging yourself from worrying thoughts, thereby calming your mind.
Since the exercise requires a lot of focus and mindfulness, big and small problems seem to dissolve in the duration that you are doing yoga. It is a powerful and effective break from stressful thoughts and even put your cluttered mind into a better perspective. Past troublesome events and anticipated problems are temporarily forgotten, leaving you much more refreshed after a session.
Performing asanas include making subtle movements that help create better posture and body alignment. At first, it may seem like a physical exercise of stretching and aerobics. But overtime, you will also develop body awareness, making you feel more comfortable with your body. As you become more mindful with these details, you will soon start to intentionally improve your posture. Better posture leads to improved confidence. And when you have good self-esteem, you also become less fazed with worrisome events.
The stress-reducing effects of yoga can be attributed to different factors such as guided meditation, stretching, breathing techniques and fitness exercises, all of which are combined into one single package. Although it does take more commitment from you, it is safer than opting for medications such as pills for stress management.
The most effective way to reduce stress through yoga is to change how you perceive stress, and the practice of self-observation can lead you to that. In yoga, you will be performing challenging postures that can be daunting even for the most flexible practitioners. For most people who react to stress as an emergency threat, such poses require flight or fight reaction, so they either force themselves to succeed in doing the pose or avoid it altogether.
However, one power of yoga is to prepare you in paying attention to your body and mind when faced with stress. Through the practice of self-observation, you are in active mode while staying calm in the middle of these challenging postures. And this is not only applicable when doing yoga. In fact, you can use the same technique when difficult situations arise. Instead of fighting back or escaping, you are bringing yourself in the present moment. This brings you in the right frame of mindfulness and help you choose how to respond to the stressful situation appropriately. So yes, yoga can greatly help manage stress. But more than the physical benefits and the “break” that yoga provides to reduce stress, the practice also helps improve your body and mind’s intuitive response to stressful moments.