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Is Yoga Scientifically Proven to Help Reduce Stress?

  Written by Kerry Watts

Steve was like many of us – trying to juggle quality time with his family at home, a romantic connection with his wife, a successful career, and an active social life. Something was getting left behind – Steve wasn’t taking any time for himself, and the stress was starting to build.

“I found myself shouting at my kids, and unable to focus at work. Some nights I would just toss and turn, unable to sleep because my heart was racing so fast. I thought that some sleeping pills or a course of anti anxiety meds might be in my near future, and I didn’t like it.”

Steve went to his doctor, explaining that he was unhappy with his stress levels at work, and looking for some guidance on how to shed a few kilos from his waist. He was surprised when his doctor suggested yoga classes rather than pulling out her scrip pad or sending him to the gym for cardio.

“My doctor recommended yoga classes, and I must admit that I was reluctant. After all, my wife goes to yoga before brunch with her girlfriends, and I always thought of it as a women’s hobby. But, I agreed to give it a try, and boy am I glad I did.”

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The hard facts about stress and yoga

 Science is only now uncovering what yoga practitioners in Asia have known for millennia: yoga is seriously good for both your mind and body. While any form of exercise releases all kinds of positive hormones, neurotransmitters and endorphins, yoga adds in the added component of mindfulness. By focusing on each action and mindfully moving your body limb by limb, you connect with your mind, breath and physicality.

Still sound too ‘woo woo’ and esoteric for you? Well, the science is crystal clear.

Research shows that we have two main aspects in our brain that react to stress. These are the emotional and cognitive functions, what some scientists call the emotional and logical brain. Your stress response is usually triggered by the emotional brain, which then sends adrenaline and cortisol into your entire body. Your logical brain then tries to turn off this emotional response to the stress, and can sometimes succeed in relaxing everything back to normal.

Studies have shown that yoga can actually train the stress circuit by helping the logical and emotional brains to work together. By staying still, balancing, and bending forward and backward, your logical brain is fired up and activated. Your emotional brain might start to stress and worry about the effort, but your logical brain takes over and helps you to perform the postures in sequence.

Just like with any muscle, your logical brain gets stronger with more practice. When you do yoga, you are training your logical sensibilities to override your potentially irrational emotional stress reaction. In this way, yoga can keep you calm and cool long after the class is over.

 Popular forms of yoga for stress and fitness

 Just as there are countless types of sport, there are countless types of yoga found throughout the world. Some are designed to relax and unwind the body, while others are meant to wake up the body and give your mind a big boost. No matter which style of yoga you choose, there is one thing for certain: this life changing exercise will reduce your stress levels.
  • Hatha Yoga – This is often the kind of class that beginners gravitate towards, as it can performed at any skill level. Teachers craft their own series of sun salutations, stretches, twists and inversions done both standing and seated, all capped off by time in ‘corpse pose’ for a dose of final relaxation.
  • Power Yoga – Most yoga studios offer a highly charged, faster paced and more strenuous version of their Hatha classes, often called “Power Yoga” or “Vinyasa Flow.” Rather than taking any small breaks or breathers between poses, an emphasis is placed on flowing through the movements in an unbroken series, raising the heart rate and building a sweat. Power Yoga is sometimes performed in a heated room.
  • Bikram Yoga – Named for controversial teacher Bikram Choudery, this is a tightly scripted series of 26 postures performed in a room heated to more than 40 degrees Celsius. Famous for its strenuous nature, brightly lit room and sweat soaked towels, Bikram Yoga can be a very serious workout indeed.
  • Yin Yoga – A Yin Yoga class consists of a series of long, slow, deep stretches that are held to the very edge of comfort. Designed to really lengthen and stretch muscles and ligaments, this class is often performed in low lighting or by candle.
  • Iyengar Yoga – Worried that you won’t be able to get your body into the necessary positions? Unsure that you’ll be able to use your own body’s resistance to gain benefit from the postures? Iyengar yoga uses a series of tools, ropes, and other bolsters to help you to manipulate your body into the shapes it should be!
  • Restorative Yoga – How does an hour or so of deeply relaxing postures supported by pillows, bolsters and blankets sound? It’s the most ultimately relaxing form of yoga, and a great way to bust any stress in your life.

While Steve was initially dubious about how yoga could help him or fit into his life, he is now half a stone lighter, far more flexible and feeling more calm and relaxed than ever before. His wife has noticed a boost in his energy levels in the bedroom, and he is able to focus on his career yet still maintain a successful work/life balance.

When asked now about his initial reluctance to practice yoga, he has this advice for any other guys out there like him: “Just give it a go. This is an intense work out, stress buster and toolkit for stress all in one.”

If you have been considering a new routine to help you deal with the stressors in your life, it’s time to give yoga a try.

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