5 Tips to Alleviate Stress with Yoga
The on going lockdown is creating a level of background stress and anxiety in many of us, that can feel hard to manage. Whether you’re worried about your job, business, family or being ill, life in the pandemic can be challenging. As business owners ourselves, we know only too well how important it is to look after your health and wellbeing, and that it is especially vital at the moment. Finding ways to manage stress and anxiety is crucial, and adding routine, exercise and rest to your week can play a big part in helping to cope, which are all things that can be accomplished through a regular yoga practise. Today we catch up with Emily Ross from YogaVenue Oxford to find out her top five tips for alleviating stress with yoga. >>
We all experience worry and stress at some point in our lives. The sensation of anxiety – those butterflies in the stomach, tightening of the throat, the loss of ability to focus on anything other than the experience of worry – is the brain’s natural response to a perceived threat, the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. This release of hormones is a natural and helpful tool for protecting ourselves. Mild stress can even be a source of empowerment – it can motivate us and ensure we are prepared for the task at hand.
For many of us, our experience with anxiety can go beyond what is useful. Anxiety disorders leave sufferers in a near perpetual state of fight or flight. This persistent activation of the sympathetic nervous system is harmful to our physical health: it places strain on the heart, disrupts the metabolism, interferes with digestion and weakens the immune system. This also has a detrimental effect on mental health, leaving sufferers overwhelmed, unable to concentrate and paralysed with a persistent underlying sense of dread. Prolonged anxiety and anxiety disorders throw us out of balance. We cease to be present and instead find ourselves in the limbo between now and the hypothetical future.
The body does have an inbuilt mechanism to counter the effects of the sympathetic nervous system: the parasympathetic nervous system. Think of the parasympathetic nervous system as the yin to the yang of the sympathetic nervous system. When a threat has passed, this system is activated to calm the body, slowing the heart and respiration rates, stimulating the digestive system and increasing libido. People with anxiety disorders will struggle to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. That’s where yoga can help.
There is a growing body of clinical evidence that yoga can help us to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, ease our anxiety and return to the present moment (see the further reading list at the bottom of the blog for academic evidence and discussion on the subject). This has been known for much longer than the research articles suggest – in the second yoga sutra, Patanjali wrote ‘yogas citta vrtti nirodhah’, ‘Yoga leads to the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind’.
‘Yoga leads to the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind’
At YogaVenue, we strongly believe that yoga can play an important part in managing stress. Here are our 5 tips for alleviating anxiety with yoga! >>
Even if it’s just 15 minutes every day, or three hours every week, establishing a routine of self care can immensely benefit your mental health. This is even more important now that our schedules have been thrown in flux by Covid 19 – a regular yoga practice can be our anchor in an unpredictable day. It helps to steady the mind, relax the body and prepare for whatever lies ahead. Another positive benefit of a regular yoga practice is that it can help us get to sleep. A deep and restful sleep balances us, leaving us less likely to be overwhelmed by the day ahead.
Take time to be still
A moment of stillness in a hectic day can help you to gather your thoughts and find serenity amidst the chaos. If you’re feeling overwhelmed – stop. Take a moment, close your eyes, and bring your attention internal. Focus on your breath, each inhale and exhale. This can be for 5, 10, 15 minutes. Just a moment in stillness and silence.
Stillness does not have to be found sitting. You can find stillness within a yoga posture. Forward folds like child’s pose can be comforting during periods of stress, while gentle movement through the spine with cat and cow pose can help release tension that we hold in the shoulders and the back when we’re anxious. Supported inversions such as lying on your back with your legs up the wall can also help bring the body back into balance. You can find tips on how to practise these postures on our YogaVenue Instagram account!
Listen to your body
There are many styles of yoga out there, and all have potential benefits for reducing anxiety. Your experience of stress and anxiety can help guide you in choosing the right style of yoga for you. If you feel constantly rushed off your feet, a soothing restorative class could be a great option for you. If you find your anxiety has a paralysing effect on you, a dynamic vinyasa or power flow could simultaneously calm the mind and kickstart the body. If uncertainty is overwhelming, a class with a set sequence like the Hot 26 can be ideal, as the reliability of this unchanging sequence can help you stay in the present moment. Additionally, if your stress is translating into stiffness and pain across the body, hot yoga can help you gently stretch and effectively ease the muscular tension that anxiety can create.
If you’re not sure of the right yoga class for you, give us a call on 01865245754 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can talk you through our range of online and in-studio classes and help you find your fit.
Replace stimulants and depressants with movement and stillness
Stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine can help us boost our energy throughout the day, but they can also leave us feeling jittery and restless, exacerbating anxiety. Additionally, depressants such as alcohol and cannabis might help us wind down after a stressful day, but they can also leave us feeling sluggish and unproductive, decreasing serotonin and impacting quality of sleep. Try replacing your mid afternoon coffee with a simple energising flow to give you that boost to power through to the end of your day. You could also replace your evening glass of wine with a restorative stretch to help you wind down and get to bed. You can find suggestions for energising and relaxing yoga sequences on our Instagram and Facebook pages!
Talk to your doctor
Yoga is proven to be beneficial to your mental and physical health, but it’s important to remove any expectation of a miracle cure. An anxiety disorder does not magically disappear overnight. For many of us, an integrative approach combining medical treatment and therapeutic support with a regular yoga practice helps to control anxiety. You should always consult your doctor before starting a new exercise regime, and it’s always handy to have a conversation about how you’re managing stress and what changes you can make to relieve it moving forward. Yoga can be an important step to making your health and wellbeing a priority.
‘Yogas Citta Vrtti Nirodhah’. ‘Yoga leads to the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind’.
When the mind is constantly in flux, we are exhausted with worry and self doubt. Yoga reminds us to listen to our bodies and honour our needs. Yoga reminds of us of our inner power and peace. Yoga reminds of us our strength in adversity.
Visit the YogaVenue website or give us a call on 01865245754 to start your yoga journey today!
Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Anheyer, D., Pilkington, K., de Manincor, M., Dobos G., and Ward, L. (2018) ‘Yoga for anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials’, Depression & Anxiety, 35 (9): 830-843
Fishman, K., McFadden, B. A., Pellegrino, J. K., Golem, D. L., Davitt, P. M., Walker, A. J. and Arent, S. M. (2019) ‘Effects of Hatha Yoga and Resistance Exercise on Affect and State Anxiety in Women’, Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, 4(16): 119-126
Gupta, N., Khera, S. Vempati, R. P., Sharma, R. and Bijlani, R. L. (2006) ‘Effect of Yoga Based Lifestyle Intervention on State and Trait Anxiety’, Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 50 (1): 41-47
Hewett, Z. L., Pumpa, K. L., Smith, C. A., Fahey, P. P. and Cheema, B. S. (2018) ‘Effect of a 16-week Bikram yoga program on perceived stress, self-efficacy and health-related quality of life in stressed and sedentary adults: A randomised controlled trial’, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 21(4): 352-357
Kirkwood, G., Rampes, H., Tuffrey, V., Richardson, J. and Pilkington, K. (2005) ‘Yoga for Anxiety: A Systematic Review of the Research Evidence’, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39 (12): 884-891
Lemay, V. Hoolahan, J. and Buchanan, A. (2019) ‘Impact of a Yoga and Meditation Intervention on Students’ Stress and Anxiety Levels’, American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 83(5): 7001
Malathi, A. and Damodaran, A. (1999) ‘Stress due to Exams in Medical Students – Role of Yoga’, Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 43(2): 218-224
Sahasi, G., Mohan, D. and Kacker, C. (1989) ‘Effectiveness of yogic techniques in the management of anxiety’, Journal of Personality and Clinical Studies, 5(1): 51-55
Science Daily (2020) ‘Yoga shown to improve anxiety, study shows’ Science Daily, Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/08/200812144124.htm(Accessed 7 October 2020)
Shannahoff-Khalsa, D. S., Ray, L. E., Levine, S., Gallen, C. C., Schwartz, B. J. and Sidorowich, J. J. (1999) ‘Randomized Controlled Trial of Yogic Meditation Techniques for Patients with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder’, Social Phobia, 4(12): 34-47
Shohani, M., Badfar, G., Parizad Nasirkandy, M., Kaikhavani, S., Rahmati, S., Modmeli, Y., Soleymani, A. and Azami, M. (2018) ‘The Effect of Yoga on Stress, Anxiety and Depression in Women’, International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 9(1): 21
Simon, N.M., Hofmann, S. G., Rosenfield, D., Hoeppner, S., Hoge, E. A., Bui, E., and Khalsa, S. B. S. (2020) ‘Efficacy of Yoga vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs Stress Education for the Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial’, Jama Psychiatry, doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.2496
Streeter, C. C., Whitfield, T. H., Owen, L., Rein, T., Karri, S. K., Yakhkind, A., and Jensen, J. E. (2010) ‘Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety and brain GABA levels: a randomised controlled MRS study.’ The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16 (11): 1145-1152
Smith, C., Hancock, H., Blake-Mortimer, J., and Eckert, K. (2007) ‘A randomised comparative trial of yoga and relaxation to reduce stress and anxiety.’ Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 15(2): 77-83