Managing Stress Through Yoga (Relaxation Response)

Ujjayi breathing

What is Stress?

In simple terms, it’s the response of our body to a hormone imbalance. The brain signals the release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in response to events or thoughts. These hormones affect everything, and can cause physical, mental and emotional reactions. In small amounts, stress can be beneficial and motivational. However, too much stress causes negative changes to your physiology. Managing stress through Yoga will show you another side of Yoga that can be greatly beneficial.

Stress is the body’s natural defense against real or imagined danger. It flushes the body with hormones to prepare systems to evade or confront in tense situations. This is known as the “fight, flight or freeze” response.

Stress Response

Let us understand the fight, flight or freeze response. Your Autonomic nervous system has two components, the Sympathetic nervous system and the Parasympathetic nervous system. Stressful situations causes the hypothalamus to send a signal through the sympathetic nervous system, for the glands to release epinephrine(adrenaline) throughout your body. This signal to prime your body for activity goes out even before the brain has had time to fully processes visual input. This is why you can react to danger instinctively.

Then, dependent on input from the body as to whether the stress has passed or not, the body kicks on the HPA axis( hypothalmus, pituitary, adrenal). This promotes the release of cortisol which keeps the body ready for action. If the stress has passed then the body activates the parasympathetic nervous system which dampens the stress response and allows the body to get back to natural.

Unfortunately, the body sees all stress as the same, just varying in degrees. Low level chronic stress results in the HPA axis staying active on a low level. Such continuous activation starts to damage the body after a while and results in a host of maladies. When you carry long term stress, you load your nervous system unnecessarily and start causing damage to bodily systems. Stress causes diseases such as:

  1. Diabetes
  2. Stroke
  3. Infertility
  4. Digestive system problems
  5. High blood pressure
  6. Respiratory disorders
  7. Liver disorders
  8. Skin problems

How to Manage Stress Through Yoga

Yoga helps manage stress in various ways. There are ways to induce the “Relaxation Response”. That’s a term coined by Dr. Herbert Benson, who openly says he is talking about Meditation.

Though deep breathing can be used to first initiate the calm, stored stress is best released by Progressive Muscle Relaxation(PMR), and Meditation. Our Yoga Nidra post has a comprehensive guide to PMR and meditation which will show results fairly quickly. The meditation may need to be focused further to relieve chronic mental stress. However the “letting go” process practiced during Yoga Nidra is the tool you will use to let go of stress. Chanting Mantras(focusing on a single sound) has also been shown to help. You can find Mantras such as these on our Concept of Chakras post.

Other than that, the flow of asanas in a Yoga practice such as this, will release muscular tension from each and every part of the body. It will help in resupplying every part of the body with fresh oxygenated blood, thereby aiding in full recovery. The meditation aspect clears out trivial mental worries and cares that could be holding you back. The Pranayama and chakra balancing routines linked below will help in regulating the energies that flow within.

All in all, there is no better way to handle every kind of stress than regular practice of Yoga.