The stress response has always been with us, as our prime instinct, when our ancestors had to flee from the dangerous animals or fight for food. The adrenaline rush, as we sometimes call it, in small amounts is very healthy and motivating. Even getting up from bed needs an adrenaline rush and higher blood pressure, which wouldn’t happen without our “built in stress response system”.
What is stress?
Stress occurs when our brain perceiving the threat – it could be anything from an unwanted bill to a confrontation with an angry motorist (which would be external stressor). Part of the brain called hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system: releasing hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, blood pressure goes up, the heart beats faster, white blood cells stick to the walls of the veins in case of any wounds to activate the healing processes, the body retains water to preserve body fluid in case of severe bleeding, it also gets a dose of sugar and fats to give us fuel to react to defend ourselves or escape depending on situation, big amounts of glucose and oxygen are being delivered to brain, skeletal muscles and heart. Our body is prepared to escape the danger. It’s called “fight or flight response” and as was said before in small amounts has got positive effect on the body. The only problem starts when the body is effected with stress for a long time.
There is no proven link between stress and disease, but because stress impacts on our immune system, few books mention a few stress related disorders like:
- Irritable bowel syndrome IBS
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
And that’s where Yoga can be used as a technique, tool to improve stress related symptoms.
The idea of the “relaxation response” was introduced by Dr Herbert Benson. Dr Benson has done a lot of research on fight or flight response and in result he came up with theory that to fight stress we need to either use up the energy which our body produced during the fight or flight response, and in our daily modern lives that doesn’t happen very often, or we need to fight the stressor with different relaxation techniques.
Now let’s have a look at different relaxation technique offered by Yoga and their benefits on stress levels.
Yoga postures have impact on our internal organs, hormone and immune system. They have been designed to keep our body, muscles and joints in a good shape. Linking Asana with breathing we create meditation practice for our body and mind.
Breath is the basis of everything, breath is our beginning and our end; we start and end human life with it. Breath is linked to all processes in our body, every single cell and most important is its impact on our brain. We can easily see how breathing impacts everything else including the nervous system, the digestive system, the immune system, the urinary and reproductive systems. Because breathing happens automatically we don’t think about it a lot unless we experience breathing difficulties. Most people’s breathing is shallow and they don’t use full lung capacity, which can cause problems in the body.
As we discussed earlier, stress can an have impact on our breath and breath is one of the techniques yoga uses to cope with stress, yoga allows you to deepen and slow down the breath and relax the nervous system and release the tension in your body sometimes within minute.
No matter what we do in life we build up tension in our body and modern life does not give us a ready recipe of how to cope with it. If the tension is in the body or mind it creates a vicious circle in our body because all the organs are connected, that can have an impact on not only on our health but also life and relationships. Through relaxation we can release tensions:
- Muscular tension – that includes tension in the nervous system and hormones.
- Emotional tension – even repressed emotions can be released through relaxation.
- Mental tension – we can access the subconscious mind and release tension.
There are different techniques of relaxation like visualisation, yoga nidra, progressive relaxation and many more. All of them are about releasing tension in the body and mind to create calmer and peaceful life.
It has been proven scientifically that there are different stages of brain activity and by meditating (and in deep relaxation) we can influence our state of mind in a controlled, awake way and move it to a theta wave state which is possible during sleep. It has been proven to be a more efficient way of energising the body than sleep
In the 21st century, era of MRI scans, advanced technology and advanced medicine, our life is still full of daily stress. Yoga starts to be recognised by medical research as one of the remedies for stress. Its techniques have been proved to have a calming effect on the body and the mind and are a holistic approach to physical disorders. No matter what a person’s conditions are, and what approach to yoga they take, if it’s done in a safe way it has an impact on mental and physical health.
In case of any medical conditions always seek advice of your GP before starting your Yoga Pratice.
Bennett R., (2015), handouts day 9, 21st of March 2015, Fight or Flight
Bennett R., (2015), handouts day 9, 21st of March 2015, What happens when we relax?
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Davies M., (2008), The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook
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