First, let’s look at some statistics. Approximately 80% of visits to the doctor (at least in the Western world) are stress-related, but yet in only about 3% of those visits does the doctor try to get to the root of the stress.
Modern medicine is all about treating symptoms, but not getting to the root of the problem – in this case what is causing the stress in the first place. Get rid of the stress and the problem caused by stress will go away or at the very least diminish in size and cause fewer problems.
In a recent U.S. national survey, 85% of the people who engaged in yoga as a form of exercise reported that it helped them reduce their stress level. Yoga, along with meditation and proper breathing techniques both of which are deeply rooted in yoga, works in two ways as a stress reliever.
At the physiological level, it affects the parasympathetic nervous system by dropping stress hormone levels (mainly adrenaline) and increasing the heart rate variability (the time between heart beats). At the mental or emotional level, it makes one more resilient, thus enabling that person to better deal with stress when it flares up.
For many people, much of their stress is self-induced by them being too hard on themselves or expecting more than they are able to do. Yoga, breathing and meditation all work together to help them see through that issue and their stress level drops.
Some styles of yoga and their associated poses, are better than others for reducing stress. Poses like these from Hatha style yoga are some of the best:
• Mountain – focuses on posture and breathing
• Tree – concentrates balancing on one foot
• Extended Side Angle – reduces stiffness in the shoulders and back which can get tense when under excessive stress.
• Downward Dog – focuses on breathing
• Cat – stretches out the back muscles which can be a source of tension caused by stress
• Bridge – reduces anxiety, fatigue, backaches, headaches and insomnia – all which can increase stress
• Cobra – opposite of the bridge, it opens up the upper body to allow for deeper breathing which is known to reduce an immediate stress level
• Legs Up the Wall – generally just a real relaxing pose
• Child’s – a fetal position pose that helps restore the nervous system
• Corpse – another relaxation pose that helps relieve tension and stress. Typically, the breathing is slowed, blood pressure reduced and mood improved.