So, does this sound familiar? Constant frustration with headaches and upset stomach. Tired ALL the time, yet can’t sleep at night. How about, neck hurts, shoulders are tensed, in between the shoulder blades are sore and tight. All of this accompanied by worrying about everything, all of the time. To the point of feeling nervous, angry, anxious, depressed, or all of the above. Well, there’s a good chance that you are stressed out. Such a common state of being; and 2020 just made matters worse. It may be unpleasant, but you are not doomed. Let’s explore how yoga therapy is ideal for relieving stress.
Stress is a response that affects emotions and creates tension in the body. It can even be taxing on our health to where we are frequently sick with colds (including major viruses) and infections. Stress can interfere with daily life responsibilities, work, and relationships.
“Stress [in fairly healthy individuals] is defined as the inability to cope with a real or imagined threat to one’s mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being which results in a series of physiological responses and adaptations.Chong, C.S.M et al (2011)
What Stress does Physiologically
My philosophy is, “the more you know, the smarter your decisions and solutions will be”. Providing that thought process, this section is a bit “science-y”, but it’s necessary for efficient self-empowerment.
When you are stressed, that means there is an elevated amount of hormones that are flooding your system. These specific chemicals are only useful for when you actually have to get out of harm’s way [a car is heading towards you – something heavy is about to hit you – a murderer is chasing you…]. In short, your sympathetic nervous system is activated to get you out of the way. However, if you are not in definite danger, then stress becomes chronic and is actually doing more harm than the thing you have put in the place of genuine harm.
Hormones such as cortisol cause glucose and fatty acids to fill up in the bloodstream. At the same time, neurohormones like epinephrine and norepinephrine increase the heart rate and blood pressure. This happening constantly can put the body in allostatic load, which is becoming more and more prevalent these days. Once the body is in this state it can be very difficult to get out of.
Let me first give you a heads up. Yoga is not an overnight cure. It is a lifestyle. Keep in mind that a quick fix makes for short-term solutions. However, there are some core yoga practices that can be done for instant relief.
No need to get discouraged. Similar to yoga in general, therapeutic yoga can reduce stress by using calming breathing, movement, and meditation techniques. The breath is utilized to bring internal awareness of stress-points in muscles throughout the body; including the smallest most unaware muscles (i.e. in the face, under the scalp, the perineum, etc.). For example, on each exhale, the focus is on releasing and relaxing tensed muscles. The goal is to create a sense of extreme (in a good way) calm in the center of “your being”.
What can Yoga Therapy do for Stress?
Yoga provides stable long term solutions. In yoga therapy, the individual’s personal experience of dealing with stress and the culprits behind their stress are considered when formulating a treatment plan. Just as mentioned in our article, “Yoga Therapy“, the very first step is to get the client to “de-stress, release and relax”, then we go from there.
In therapy, when it comes to chronic stress (like many of us are experiencing in 2020) the goal is to get the body’s internal systems to go into a parasympathetic state to cease the overflow of stress hormones. You are able to think clearer and notice what is actually taking place in your situation. This ability provides you with better insight into what is in your control.
Yoga nidra and the yamas & niyamas, can facilitate clarity. Also, these yoga-tools can clarify the reality and truth around why you are stressed. Thought processes and solutions become more organized. You are able to prioritize what is actually important.
Meditation can help clear away the wasteland of wasteful thoughts that tend to trigger stress. The best example I can give on this is if you were driving and almost hit a tree at speed. The thought of that experience and the fearful sensation that rolled through your body (adrenaline & glucose) at that time will keep replaying itself in your mind. Without a way to process that experience, it can become the culprit of reoccurring stress.
That’s a fairly extreme example, but similar can occur when thinking about paying the bills. Meditation can assist with “washing away” portions of thoughts that are trapped in your hippocampus, which signals the amygdala to continue playing the accompanying emotions.
Meditation relaxes an overactive mind. Yoga nidra teaches you how to substitute stressful thoughts with reasonable ones. In other words, instead of panicking in the middle of the night about getting that report in to your boss. You may take a deep breath and on the exhale feel as if you were sinking comfortably into your bed. Follow that up with the reality of, “at this very moment, at 12:00am, there is nothing I can do about that. My boss is asleep, business is closed, and getting my rest is the most important thing to do right now.”
That may seem unreasonable to you as you’re reading this for the first time. However, that is why yoga therapy is so useful. The time spent in sessions makes space for you to learn and feel comfortable with this concept through practice and being supported by a yoga therapist.
Pranayama can help us to deal with a stressful experience in the moment and overall. I will give you a personal example on this one. A few years ago, I was doing my civic duty as a juror. I was actually chosen for a murder case. I could feel my anxiety rising in real-time. This type of experience typically would linger around, and I would have nightmares. Instead of allowing myself to freak out, I did calm, cooling breaths during the trial and jury discussions. I also incorporated a pranayama called “Venom Breath.” It helped tremendously to do that breathing technique as soon as I got home from the courthouse. I had no nightmares, no horrifying lingering memories, and no anxiety attacks to this day.
In therapy, you get to test out and learn the best pranayama for your stress. According to what is being presented in your body, as a result of the way you handle stress will determine the types of breathing techniques, you will add to your plan of care. Stress can either present shallow breathing, quick chest breathing, or suppressed breath. When pranayama is practiced, like during a yoga session, you learn to properly utilize the breath, exercise the lungs, and breathe fully. This also contributes to proper blood circulation.
Meditation and pranayama can reduce stress & calm the nervous system
Honestly, for most people, just telling them to “relax” is not sufficient because the body and the mind want to move (as if there is something to get done right now, yet it may not be). To remedy this, we may explore some simple postures and non-complicated stretches to satisfy the body’s need to do something else. Doing asanas will also help loosen tensed/stressed muscles and relieve chronic pain.
Postures will get the circulation moving, which in turn puts glucose and other overactive chemicals to use and/or to turn them off (biofeedback). Once stress responses are lowered, we can then utilize additional pranayama, meditation or yoga nidra, more relevant asanas (postures), and maybe some yama/niyama exercises.
For some quick tips on what you can do right now, go to our article on “4 Stress-Busting Yoga Tips“. Subscribe to the blog to automatically receive the upcoming article and for more helpful articles and tips.
References & Resources
Chong, Cecilia S M, BS; Tsunaka, Megumi, BS; Tsang, Hector W H, PhD; Chan, Edward P, BA; Cheung, Wai Ming, PhD. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine; Aliso Viejo Vol. 17, Iss. 1, (Jan/Feb 2011): 32-8.
Eden, Donna (2008). Energy Medicine for Women. Penguin Group, Inc. https://edenenergymedicine.com/https://edenenergymedicine.com/