Almost anyone who practices yoga will have had this experience at some point: the day has been long and stressful. You’re anxious and riled up, unable to focus, easily agitated. You do an afternoon yoga session after work, and by the end of it the stress is gone. You feel energized, but not anxious. Alert, but focused. Relaxed, but ready to work.
Yoga can be a powerful tool for self-relaxation — and it’s not just a marketing claim. Since the 1970s, self-relaxation techniques, including yoga and meditation, have been of great interest to many scientists to treat depression and anxiety without medication.
Time and time again, they’ve found to be highly effective.
What’s so special about yoga? Why is it such an excellent way to relax, recharge, and refocus?
Wonder no more: here’s how yoga reduces stress.
Yoga Helps Focus the Mind
Many times stress and anxiety are the results of over-thinking. Our minds are trying to keep track of too many things going on in our lives — we have a deadline at work, a meeting, kids to pick up, dinner to make, things to follow up on, something to remind others about, things we’ve forgotten and just remembered.
Yoga practice focuses the mind on one thing: the practice itself.
The combination of controlled breathing and poses, which require coordination with the whole body, basically forces us to think only about what we’re doing. If we don’t, we struggle to breathe, or we lose our balance. There is effectively no room for the mind to wander during yoga practice.
Doing this effectively works as a kind of reset for the mind. By breaking the loop of overlapping thoughts, our brains are able to start processing everything around us better. Suddenly we can see how many tasks are before us, how much time we have to complete them, and how manageable it all is.
Yoga Helps Control Breathing
Shortness of breath is a common symptom — and even cause — of stress and anxiety. When we’re anxious, our breaths become short, sharp, and shallow.
One of the key practices of yoga is focused, steady breathing. Deliberate counts for inhaling, exhaling, and pausing in between are not just key to making the exercise more effective but helping to regulate your mood.
These breathing techniques don’t just work to soothe you during practice, either. You’ll find yourself adopting these breathing patterns in everyday life during strenuous or stressful experiences. These breathing techniques will control stress levels and leave you better prepared to deal with life’s challenges.
Yoga Helps Build Heart Rate Variability, which controls the stress level
Heart rate variability measures the difference in time between individual heartbeats. When we say someone’s heart rate is 60bpm, that doesn’t mean it’s beating once every second. There might be 0.8 seconds between two beats, then 1.15 seconds, then 1.05 seconds, etc. averaging out to 60.
Heart rate variability gives us an insight into our body’s autonomous nervous system, which controls our flight-or-fight responses — our stress levels and reactions.
When we have a high heart rate variability, it usually means we are relaxed. Low heart rate variability indicates an aroused state, such as excitement, stress, or anxiety.
Yoga helps increase heart rate variability, thus making us feel more relaxed. It basically means our bodies are more able to respond to things around us without immediately kicking into overdrive. Over the long term, this makes us better able to handle stressful situations and get out of stressed states faster.
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