Because stress takes its toll both mentally and physically, yoga's mind-body approach can be very effective at reducing its impact. As a widely recognized stress-relieving practice, yoga has been shown to mitigate the body's physiological response to stressors. Its primary effectiveness is based on helping practitioners switch from their sympathetic "fight or flight" nervous system to their parasympathetic "rest and restore" nervous system.
The following five strategies offer ways to leverage yoga's ability to calm the nervous system as well release physical tension and emotional unease. If you're looking to tame tension and find peace, give them a try.
When you notice yourself reacting to a stressor, like a negative news story or an overly opinionated friend or neighbor, it's helpful to have a means of regaining your sense of peace and composure. Practicing yoga breathing and mindfulness meditation have both been proven to dramatically reduce mental and physical stress; mindfulness meditation was even recently shown to relieve chronic back pain
The simplest way to meditate is by focusing on your breath. As the only aspect of our autonomic nervous system that we can control, breathing
is truly a stress-busting superpower that grants us access to the physiological processes that make us feel stressed. According to Harvard Medical School's Dr. Herbert Benson, we can use our breathing to elicit a "relaxation response," lowering heart rate, blood pressure and stress-hormone production.
To put this into practice, sit comfortably with your eyes closed and focus on your breathing. Establish a count as follows: five-count inhale, seven-count exhale and three-count pause. Take a minimum of 10 breaths in this manner, but ideally, try to build up to four sets of 10 breaths. This should take about 10 minutes.
Roll stress off your shoulders.
Emotional stress manifests as physical stress, especially in the neck and shoulders. To release upper-body tension, from standing, clasp your hands behind your back and straighten your arms to the best of your ability as you look up, opening your chest, neck and shoulders. Hold the posture for a few breaths. Release and repeat. You can also shrug off shoulder and neck stress with some shoulder rolls and gentle head turns, like you are shaking your head "no" slowly. Think: stress -- no, no!