Yoga for Anxiety and Stress Management

While stress is not inherently bad and evolution has equipped us to either fight or flee, the problem arises when we are unable to stop perceiving stress or when we can’t go long enough devoid of a stressor present.

Waking up startled by an alarm, often with insufficient (and poor) hours of sleep. Notifications pouring down of unanswered emails and missed calls. Feeling miserable about the life you could’ve had on social media. Skipping a meal or worse eating the wrong kind of food. Financial goals coupled with the progress at work. Family commitments or missing out on the feeling of love and security from family and friends. Exposing yourself to long hours of screen time, loud sounds, etc - extended and heightened stimuli are all examples of stressful situations.

With chronic exposure to stress, our sympathetic nervous system is on overdrive and with its elevated heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol, or inflammatory cytokines. Several stressful situations can then trigger anxiety leading to panic attacks.

Yoga for stress relief aims at bringing the body to a state of stability (sthira), ease or comfort (sukha), and relaxation (shaithilya). The practice modulates the breath to long, smooth, regulated rhythms, with the ability to pause and hold when needed.

The practice always integrates mental awareness to the state of the body and experience of the breath and is exceedingly proving to be highly beneficial. While the poses stretch and release muscular tensions, knots, and mood-enhancing endorphins; the awareness of sensations, thoughts, and feelings make you emotionally resilient. All of this restores internal balance to the ANS (autonomic nervous system) and combats allostatic load.

One of the many benefits of yoga - it can be done by anyone! Each body can and will practice it differently - using their patterns to bring together movement, breath, and awareness. If you have recently suffered an injury or gone through surgery. There’s a yoga practice for that as well, it would just need to be curated as per the given condition.

Yoga poses for stress relief can include practices like

  • Yoga Nidra in savasana/corpse pose
  • Breathing practices in a seated or reclined pose
  • Mindful movements synchronized with breath - cat-cow, Child’s pose to kneeling position, Hugging the knees into your chest in the supine position, etc.
  • Some yoga poses for stress relief such as gentle inversions like putting your legs up the wall are also known to be very beneficial.

Benefits of a yoga practice

The benefits of having a regular yoga practice are numerous. It helps with stress reduction and tackling bouts of anxiety by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. It cultivates internal awareness that equips you to be emotionally resilient and feel a greater sense of well-being. It keeps the body light, fit, and supple. While yoga helps alleviate symptoms of chronic health conditions it also is the most holistic system of preventive health care. When we improve markers like Heart rate variability, resting cardiovascular parameters, vagal tone, and muscle relaxation - we are reducing the chances of chronic health conditions set in.

This is just a glimpse into how a simple, accessible but regular yoga practice can help manage stress. We can never eradicate stress from our experience of life, but we can prepare ourselves to cope with it better. We need to be resilient enough to combat stress by making decisions and solving problems, rather than succumbing to them. Let's do this not by fighting more but by inculcating a sense of peace.


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