As a yoga teacher, I often encourage my students to take a moment to consider what brings them to their practice and what they’re trying to cultivate. I find the majority of my students want to manage stress and cultivate a sense of peace. They want to feel calm and centered.
I’ve found in my personal life that when my practice dwindles (yes, that totally happens), my stress levels soar and my ability to manage stress seems to be lacking. When I reprioritize my practice, I feel strong, peaceful, and centered.
Here are three amazing reasons yoga reduces stress in our lives.
1. Yoga balances our body, allowing us to cultivate strength and flexibility.
Stress takes a toll on our bodies; it drains our energy, leaving us tense, tight, and tired. The practice of yoga postures (asana) is designed to balance our bodies.
On one hand, sustaining a yoga practice makes us grow stronger, as many of the poses are complex and require strength, stability, and endurance. On the other hand, we become more flexible; we learn to yield and soften and open our bodies within the effort of asana practice.
This combination cultivates vitality and agility, allowing us to experience higher levels of energy and a sense of freedom and ease.
2. Yoga balances our mind, allowing us to cultivate presence and compassion.
Stress is often fueled by our thoughts. We get wrapped up in abstract concerns regarding our finances, careers, relationships, and security. We can’t resolve these concerns immediately and they constantly occupy our minds. This is very distracting and can even trigger self-abusive responses.
Yoga teaches us how to befriend our mind and stop it from working against us. We train in steadying the reelings of our mind and cultivate presence and compassion. The physical practice teaches us to hone in on the actions we can take in the moment to refine our posture and breath.
We learn to focus on what we can do instead of concerning ourselves with the unavailable and out of reach. The contemplative practice teaches us to observe our thought processes in an objective and friendly manner.
As we cultivate the ability to quiet our mind and observe it with compassion, we begin to experience tranquility. It becomes so much more accessible to literally “take it easy.”
3. Yoga balances our nervous system, helping us learn to leverage our breath.
When we experience stress, our nervous system goes into a frenzy, our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated, and our stress response aka the “fight-or-flight response” is triggered, causing high cortisol, adrenaline, and blood pressure levels.
While necessary for survival, it’s destructive when chronically triggered. In contrast, our parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) is responsible for calming our system and reversing the effects of the SNS, and our breath is the direct link to access our PSNS.
Breath work (Pranayama) is one of the limbs of yoga, it teaches us how to access, utilize and deepen our breath. Through the study of breathing techniques, we deepen our breath and learn to direct it. We learn to synchronize our breath with our movements and experience a sense of grace, ease, and flow.
When we steady and deepen our breath, we access and trigger our PSNS; our whole system begins to settle down, our mind calms, and we can sense peace.
Yoga is very powerful and extremely beneficial in managing stress. When we cultivate peace from within, we gain access to our higher selves, our wisdom, creativity, and compassion.
Yoga has been guiding people from suffering into liberation for thousands of years. While the landscape of our lives has changed dramatically over time, the reality of the human condition is the same: we’re wired to survive, but we need to cultivate empowering tools in order to truly and happily thrive.