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Does Yoga Reduce Stress?

woman_screamingHave you ever felt like the screaming woman in this picture? Of course you have. We all have. Life can be so stressful. Whether it’s fighting traffic or dealing with a surprise snowstorm or rushing to meet some deadline, there seems to be an unlimited availability of stress and stressful situations.

And, because of this ongoing stress, we’re experiencing more stress related diseases than ever before. Why is this? Certainly our ancient ancestors had plenty of stressful situations. There were wild animals and starvation to name a couple. I wonder if they had chronic stress and associated diseases like we have today? According to research, no, they did not.

The Dilemma

That’s the issue. When our ancestors experienced stress, they took action – fight or flight. After the action was taken their systems went into the relaxation response (rest, digest, repair) stage or they didn’t have a “system” to worry about.

The pattern was: Stress Response … Action … Relaxation Response

We moderns are still wired that way. The “action” being taken is really important because it cues our body when we’re safe. Then the relaxation response kicks in to allow for rest and repair before the next stressful situation. Until there is that action and safe feeling, we stay in fight/flight.

It is impossible to be in stress response and relaxation response at the same time. It’s one or the other.

And, that is a huge issue for us today because we can’t always take the necessary action. For example, say you’re at work and a computer crash causes you to miss a critical deadline. You can’t exactly take a stress relieving action like physically running away.

If this goes on long enough your body never gets to fully recover through the relaxation response. This is the root cause of today’s stress related diseases. We have outdated caveman biology for a modern world.

Bridging the Gap

There are several things to do to bridge the biology gap and induce your rest, digest and repair response. Movement is critical to health and the deep breathing that you find in some yoga works really well.Tad_Seated

With deep breathing, the body understands the danger has stopped because it activates the relaxation response. The other key point about deep breathing is that it bypasses the mind and works directly on the body. So you don’t have to solve the stress-causing problem to activate relaxation.

Remember, you can only be in one response state at a time.

A “Little” Yoga Secret

The kind of yoga that emphasizes deep breathing and makes breath the center of the practice is the type that does reduce stress.

But many forms of yoga (especially in this country) are more like a gym workout. They rarely mention the breath other than the occasional reminder to breathe.

In his blog, Facing the Stress Epidemic, J Brown comments on yoga’s reputation for stress reduction but points out how many classes “regularly exhibit a lack of understanding about the nature of stress or how to effectively address it.”

I couldn’t agree more. Check out my blog, Yoga and Observation, which has a link to Brown’s blog and video on what type yoga really does repair the body and reduce stress.

If yoga is to work its magic as a form of “action” that leads to the relaxation response, then a focus on breath must be central.

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Joanne Thompson

Joanne Thompson

Founder/Owner at Yoga for Self

Health is a precious gift and my goal is to help you live a healthier, happier life through yoga. Every private session is uniquely designed just for you. For a free telephone consultation call me at 303.818.4181. Discover whether personalized, private yoga instruction is right for you.
Joanne Thompson

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