It sometimes feels like our world is designed to induce stress and anxiety.
Especially as it now seems that your worth, is based on how busy you are. You can’t just ignore the stress in your life, because that can just lead to a meltdown when you need it the least.
We all need to find ways to look after ourselves and reduce our stress.
You might have heard that yoga reduces stress. But, does it really?
In this article, I’m going to explore the question “does yoga help with stress”. I’m not just going to rely on anecdotal evidence, there are scientists out there who have done the research on this, so I’m going to tell you what they have to say on the matter as well.
Does Yoga Reduce Stress?
Quite simply the answer is yes.
Yoga helps to relieve the symptoms of stress, such as muscle tension, headaches, and insomnia. Which will make you feel better. Which in itself will reduce your stress!
Yoga can also help you to manage your feelings of stress by giving you an escape. When you are moving through your poses you can’t we worrying about how many things are still on your to-do list because you need to focus on what your body is doing.
This break from worry will leave you better able to deal with those concerns when you’re done.
Does Yoga Help with Anxiety?
If you suffer from anxiety, then you know probably know well the feeling of tension and dread that can build. The knots in your stomach or the feeling of fighting for your breath. It can be debilitating.
Having tools to manage these feelings can allow you to take control back in your life. Yoga is a useful tool for this because you can do it anywhere, you don’t need anything other than yourself. If you have a quiet space you can do some simple poses, or if not, you can just use the breathing techniques to help you find your center.
Using the tools, you learn in yoga can just interrupt the cycle of worry that builds into anxiety. This is the first step in managing anxiety problems.
How Does it Work?
The reason that yoga is such a go-to suggestion for stress and anxiety relief is that it works in lots of different ways to help you manage these issues.
I’m going to break these effects down into how it works on your hormones, your muscles, and your mind.
If you’ve ever been to the doctor about stress they probably recommended exercise as a way to relieve your stress. The reason for this is that when after you exercise your body rewards you with a surge of serotonin. Serotonin is the ‘happy’ hormone, it’s responsible for that good feeling you get after eating chocolate or having great sex.
When you’re stressed your body tends to produce less serotonin, which is why exercise, like yoga, is a great way to get you feeling better.
The next hormone we’re interested in is cortisol. If serotonin is the happy hormone then cortisol is the stress hormone. The more stressed you are the more cortisol you have in your body and the worse you feel.
Gentle exercise reduces your cortisol levels. Intense exercise does tend to increase them, after all, if you push yourself until you can barely breathe then your body is going to be pretty stressed. This means yoga is ideal, the gentle movements and controlled exercise can have a meaningful impact on reducing your cortisol levels.
The Effect on Your Muscles
For some people, it can be hard to recognize that they are actually suffering from stress. It can seem like a nebulous idea that people talk about a lot.
The easily identified symptoms of stress are the physical ones. For most people, this is muscle tension, especially in the shoulders and neck. This tension often leads to headaches which can, in turn, make it hard to sleep.
Yoga stretches out your muscles, which relieves that tension and pain. By practicing yoga, you learn to be aware of your muscles, and how to isolate and relax specific areas.
One of the things you learn by practicing yoga is how to breathe properly. When we’re stressed or anxious we tend to take fast shallow breaths. This type of rapid breathing actually increases your bad feelings. In yoga, you learn to use your diaphragm and intercostal muscles to breath deeply and slowly.
This style of breathing reduces tension and anxiety.
Some styles of yoga include meditation techniques in their practice. These techniques help you to be mindful. This means you develop a better awareness of your thoughts and feeling which allows you to take control of your stress.
Even if the style of yoga you choose does not have a meditative component you still get a lot of mental benefits. In order to practice yoga successfully, you need to be ‘present’. Your focus has to be on what you are doing, otherwise, you’ll lose your balance.
You know that feeling of satisfaction you get when you master something, or you complete something? Well, yoga gives you the opportunity to experience that in every session.
Whether it’s the fact you got through the whole session, or you finally mastered a pose you’ve been struggling with practicing yoga gives you an opportunity to feel successful in your life. That feeling is invaluable, especially if you feel yourself sinking under the waves of stress.
Is There any Evidence?
This article has made a lot of claims about the benefits of yoga, so if you’re sat there thinking “But how do you know?”, first good for you, second here is where I got my information from.
There is a wealth of scientific data out there about the ways in which yoga reduces stress and anxiety so rather than point you at them all, why not check out what the Mayo Clinic and Harvard medical school have to say about it, If you can’t trust them, who can you trust?
For the effects of yoga on cortisol, I used three different studies. I had a lot to choose from, but these are the three I read, in depth. The first is about how different types of exercise affect cortisol levels, and the second and the third specifically looks at yoga’s effect on cortisol levels and depression.
There are also studies on:
In summary, the evidence is good and there is lots of it!
Science agrees that yoga is good for stress and anxiety.
Which Style of Yoga is Best for Stress Relief?
So now that you’re excited to try yoga to reduce your stress, the next question is probably, “which style should I try?”.
Ultimately it comes down to whichever style you enjoy the most, that is the key thing here. My advice though, if you’re not big on exercise currently then maybe start with hatha yoga. It’s the gentlest style as it is slow paced and there is a strong focus on breathing and calm.
If you’re already a little active, then vinyasa or power yoga will give you a bit more of a workout which will emphasize the more physical benefits of yoga.
Basically, give it a try and find what works for you.
Which Poses Work Best?
My personal favorite pose is child’s pose. I love it because it stretches out your shoulders, which are often where we hold a lot of tension and it’s a very soothing and relaxing position to just breath in.
Standing forward bend is a really good pose because it’s easy to do anywhere, you don’t have to lie down. It stretches out your lower body and helps to get your blood flowing.
Eagle pose is a great one for taking your mind off the world. It requires a lot of focus to balance in this pose, so you’ll have to shut out thoughts of anything but keeping yourself balanced.
If you’re looking for some stress-busting routines then there is a YouTube channel that I strongly recommend. It’s called Yoga with Adriene. She’s a great instructor and has loads of full routines for free on her channel.
Among them, you can find a quick 7 minutes stress relief routine and for when you have the time there is a longer 35-minute routine.
Hopefully, you have your answer to the question “Does yoga help with stress?”. And hopefully, that answer is a resounding yes.
Yoga helps with both stress and anxiety in a variety of ways and it provides you with tools to manage stress even when you’re not on the yoga mat. Incorporating yoga into your routine can have a myriad of positive effects on your life.
Has yoga helped you with stress or anxiety?
Why not leave a comment to share your experience with others?