Strike A Pose: The Victory of Yoga Over Stress
When was the last time you had a stress free day? In a world where invisible rivers of Wi-Fi keep us connected everywhere we go, stress is our constant companion. Its effects are so widespread that managing it is now at the forefront of the preventative health revolution. Thankfully, there are many ways to combat its effects, including exercise, focused breathing, and activities that promote relaxation. Yoga has the upper hand in stress diffusion in that it combines all of these and more to restore the vital balance between body and mind.
What is Stress?
It may seem like a silly question, but to defeat your enemy you must first know your enemy, and in our modern world, stress is our one common foe. According to Psychology Today, stress is born out of our fight-or-flight response, an evolutionary instinct that cues us into potential danger and prepares us to react by releasing hormones that temporarily alter our bodily functions. How we mentally perceive those dangers and how our bodies respond to them results in stress, and that isn’t inherently bad.
Stress serves a purpose. It grants us solutions to threats, but stresses need not be just life or death. In our modern world, triggers can be as simple as the fear of running late thanks to the pretentiously complex coffee order of the person in front of us. Therein lies the problem with stress. When it arises in response to everyday scenarios, we expose both body and mind more frequently to its harmful effects.
When chronic, stress can manifest itself in many forms. Physically, it can be experienced through headaches, elevated blood pressure, digestive upset, disruptions in sleep, and muscle pain. Emotional responses can include anxiety, restlessness, irritability, and depression. If left untreated, stress can become overwhelming and damage your quality of life.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient practice that works to bridge the gap between mind and body, combining strength and flexibility exercises with mental disciplines like mindfulness or meditation. Originating in India, the term yoga encompasses a rich history and a variety of styles. There are practices for all ages and all levels of experience, but they typically share three commonalities: poses, breathing, and relaxation. Poses, or postures as they are called, push the practitioner to exceed their limits in strength, flexibility, stamina, and balance. Some styles move quickly through poses while others take a more measured pace. Regardless of the speed at which the poses are performed, breathing is always slow and measured, teaching you to control only what you can. Through the postures and breathing, the body relaxes, existing only in the present moment– the first step to releasing stress.
Yoga vs. Stress
Through yoga, you learn to focus on specific regions of the body. This, along with controlled breathing, pushes out the mental clutter that typically results in stress. The impact of this extends to the body as well. When anxious, we tend to stiffen various muscles. This prolonged tension leads to pain. Back muscle pain is one of the more common side effects of stress, and it is often triggered by muscles that aren’t even located in the back. When tension is held in a particular set of muscles for an extended period of time, it creates an imbalance in the opposing muscles, causing them to lose shape. In time, these muscle imbalances can build and manifest into severe pain. Yoga’s emphasis on strengthening and stretching muscles can help to re-balance those responsible for pain. It can also be done nearly anywhere, giving you unrestricted access to its benefits when you need them most. It’s always good to have some guide in the beginning. You will notice how as time passes you will start to be able to lead your own yoga exercises in the moment you need them.
Yoga excels in managing stress thanks to its combined focus on body and mind. It encourages its practitioners to be mindful of their needs and to combat stress through patience, endurance, and a little bit of self-love.