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Yoga for stress: my go-to exercises

Updated: Apr 7

Read more about how Yoga can help you relieve and manage stress, and three exercises you can do today if you're feeling under pressure.


Stress is a crucial element of our survival as human beings and can actually be a good thing. Too much of it however, leads to a number of issues, such as mental health problems, cardiovascular-related diseases, obesity, eating disorders...the list goes on...


In this blog, I'm covering some common symptoms of stress, how the practice of Yoga can help you reduce and manage it, and three exercises for you to try if you're feeling distressed or agitated today.

Besides being a Yoga teacher I am also a freelance business consultant, so I am no stranger to urgent deadlines, conflicting schedules...and stress. Juggling my personal life, work and Yoga teaching is no joke, so ensuring I am in control of my emotions, able to make sound decisions, whilst preserving my mental sanity is a priority for me. And judging by the fact that you're here reading this post, I am guessing this is a priority for you too?


April has been the Stress Awareness Month since 1992. This year, I've decided to pull together a bit of an article about how Yoga helps you reduce and manage stress, as well as share my experience about some exercises that have been an absolute life-saver in times of pressure.


But before we talk about how you can relieve stress, let's look at some symptoms so you can recognise it and know when to take action.


Or... if you're in a hurry and would like to get straight to the point, check the table of contents below:

Common signs of stress

How does Yoga reduce stress?

My go-to exercises to relieve stress now

 

Common Signs of Stress

Your body is built to handle small doses of stress. In fact, stress is essential to protect you from harm, triggering your 'fight and flight' response, key to your survival when facing life-threatening situations.


The problem arises when you subject yourself to a constant stream of seemingly threatening situations, repeatedly triggering a stress response, which speeds up your heart rate, tightens your muscles and increases your blood pressure, eventually leading to chronic stress - often behind conditions such as depression, anxiety, heart attacks, or permanent hair loss.


Everybody deals with stress differently, and some people will be more affected than others, but there are a few common symptoms that can help you recognise stress. They are:

  • Low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness

  • Tense muscles and body pain

  • Easy to anger and usual feelings of frustration

  • Not being able to focus

  • Struggle to rest and relax the mind

  • Chest pains or shortness of breath

  • Poor memory and judgement

  • Nervousness and an increase in nervous habits such as nail biting or fidgeting

The more aware you are about how stress manifests physically and mentally, the more you will be able to take steps to address it and relieve it.


How does Yoga reduce stress?


Not being able to focus, experiencing chest pains and shortness of breath are some of the symptoms of stress.

Simply put, Yoga promotes a deep relaxation in your body and mind, therefore helping to counteract stress and anxiety. Moreover, the practice of Yoga brings together a number of methods that are popular coping mechanisms if you're suffering from stress - such as breathing exercises, tension relieving poses and guided relaxation techniques.


But there are two big reasons why Yoga has such a lasting effect in the reduction of symptoms of stress. Indeed, the practice of Yoga goes beyond the momentarily relief of tension and anxiety, to give you life-long tools to help you manage stress and keep it at a healthy level. Here's why:


1. The practice of Yoga stimulates the vagus nerve and activates the parasympathetic nervous system.

The vagus nerve covers pretty much your entire body from the brain to the bottom of your spine, and serves as the "modulator of the brain". This is especially important because it is through this nerve that you can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for the 'rest and relax' response of your body and the release of hormones that will counteract your natural reaction to stress - decreasing your heart rate and calming the mind.


By stimulating the vagus nerve and activating your parasympathetic nervous system, through the practice of Yoga, you slow down your entire body - a bit like pressing the breaks on a speeding car - and deactivate your stress response, relieving tension and promoting relaxation.


An active 'rest and relax' system also contributes towards,

  • A better mood,

  • Lower blood pressure,

  • And a chance to repair and strengthen your immune system.


2. Yoga promotes the release of "feel-good" hormones that will balance your nervous system and contribute to an overall wellbeing sensation.

During the practice of Yoga, as you go through the poses and techniques proposed by your Yoga teacher, "feel-good" hormones and neurotransmitters are produced and segregated such as,

  • Endorphins - hormones recognised as natural pain-killers. Endorphins are released when the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland are stimulated, for example during the practice of inversions or Meditation.

  • Serotonin - neurotransmitters that impact our mood, emotions and sleep. Meditation increases serotonin in the body, helping to improve wellbeing. A healthy diet and exercise also help to promote serotonin in the brain.

  • Dopamine - is another neurotransmitter that influences the way you're able to feel pleasure and plays a big role in how you think and plan. Meditation, Yoganidrā (guided relaxation techniques) and some specific Yoga poses, all contribute to the increase of Dopamine in your brain.

  • Oxytocin - known as the "love hormone", it is linked to empathy, social interaction, wellbeing and anti-stress response. Yoga plays a big part in the release of this hormone, through tension relieving poses and deep breathing exercises that warm up the body and stimulate the production of oxytocin.


My go-to exercises to relive stress now


[...]the practice of Yoga goes beyond the momentary relief of tension and anxiety, to give you life-long tools to help manage stress and keep it at a healthy level[...]


Abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing

If you're retaining only one exercise from this blog post, then let this be the one.


Abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing is an incredible tool we have in our arsenal against stress. Consisting of breathing only using our diaphragm (feeling our bellies move up and down as we inhale and exhale), this exercise is extremely effective in deactivating our 'fight and flight' stress response.


Breathing in and out through the diaphragm not only estimulares your vagus nerve, activating your parasympathetic nervous system, it also allows your brain to absorb greater levels of oxygen contributing to the slowing down of your mind.


Check this step-by-step guide on how to do abdominal breathing from our Instagram page @yogaful.studio here.


Or read more about the benefits of conscious breathing and how you can learn how to breath here.


Yoganidrā - guided relaxation exercises

Yoganidrā are guided-relaxation techniques we use in all our Yoga classes at Yogaful Studio.


Through Yoganidrā, the neuro-vegetative automation takes back control, repairing our physical bodies and our brains completely, and re-establishing neurotransmitters, crucial to our personal development and well-being.


In addition to that, Yoganidrā is prophylactic, helping to reduce stress through the production of antibodies and peptides - natural “sleeping pills”.


It also works as a pain reliever, by encouraging the production of endorphins and bio opioids like serotonin.


➡️ Experience Yoganidrā and tune into our guided relaxation recording here, and allow yourself to rest and relax.


Visualisation exercises and/or Mantra

When your stress response kicks in, one of the best methods to snap out of it is to shift your focus.


Look towards the horizon or concentrate all your attention in an object nearby. If you can, remain focused without blinking until you feel your eyes tear up - tears release toxins and also promote the production of "feel-good" chemicals, such as endorphins and oxytocin.


Another technique that also helps put a stop to your 'fight and flight' response is the mental repetition of Mantra, for example the word OM (pronounced AUM).


Here the main thing is to help take you out of your head, and bring your awareness back to the present moment, stimulating your vagus nerve that will signal your brain that everything is okay and you're no longer under threat.


 

We all experience stress, but what matters is how we're able to control it, so we can live our lives to the fullest - juggling family, work and hobbies without compromising our mental health.


Learn to manage stress, so it no longer holds you back from living a full life.

Practice Yoga. Try FREE for 14 days.



 

Do you have any other exercises that help you relieve stress? Leave them in the comments below 👇


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