In our current society, the signs and symptoms of anxiety are alarmingly common. Every day I see patients who come into the pharmacy searching for a miracle pill to help reduce the impact stress and anxiety are having on their lives. Yoga and meditation have long been linked to reducing stress, but it can really actually help?
The yoga asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathwork) have been calming jittery minds and smoothing the stress spikes people experience for thousands of years. It is this ancient discipline that has taught people how to stay in the present moment, recognise when stress arises and be able to respond to it in a more balanced way.
Like most people, you may find that you walk into a yoga class with a lot of stress and tension, and within sixty minutes, feel like you’re floating when you walk out of one! How does this miracle hour give you that feeling? Below is a bit of science as to why and how.
Many of the benefits of yoga come from the close work it has on our nervous system. Our Autonomic Nervous System is made up of both the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), known as the “accelerator”, and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), known as the “brake”. When we are in balance, the PNS is dominant. This helps our muscles to relax, our heart rate to slow down, and our energy to move into maintaining the systems of the body, like digestion.
When we are stressed, the SNS kicks into gear. This starts a cascade of actions within the body, causing the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol and other chemicals. This makes your muscles tense up and your pulse rate sky-rocket, as your body moves into “fight or flight” mode. As the stress we experience has become more psychological and sustained, the SNS accelerator remains dominant and active in most people.
Yoga offers relief, as it activates both the SNS and PNS. A well-rounded yoga practice kicks the SNS into gear with Sun Salutations, and balances it with the PNS at the end in corpse pose (savasana) and meditation. Through yoga, we learn how to build up a more resilient nervous system, and know how to operate both the accelerator and more importantly, the brake.
Beyond the pretzel-like yoga postures you often see, yoga is very much an internal practice. As you learn to be self-aware of how you place your body on your yoga mat, you become more aware of what’s happening internally and are able to recognise the signs of stress before they rise to the surface. As anxiety usually affects our breathing first, the pranayama in yoga can teach you how to slow your breath, know how to guide your mind, and stop anxiety from escalating.
If you can’t manage to get to a yoga class, below are 6 simple postures you can try in the comfort of your own home to help you slow down.
Try to spend at least 3-5 minutes in each posture to gain the maximum benefit!
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