Many people practice yoga in an effort to manage stress, a common factor in health problems like heart disease, depression, insomnia, digestive disorders, and obesity. Although it's not known whether this mind-body practice can help fight stress-related diseases, many studies suggest that yoga may enhance your health by reducing stress.
How Does Yoga Reduce Stress?
Most yoga styles combine physical postures with deep breathing and meditation. By inducing relaxation, yoga is thought to calm activity in the sympathetic nervous system (a branch of the central nervous system known to increase blood pressure, rev up heart rate, and slow digestion in response to stress).
The Science Behind Yoga and Stress
Yoga may help counteract the negative effects of stress, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Indeed, a 2010 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that yoga may help protect against stress-induced increases in inflammation. Looking at data on 25 yoga experts and 25 yoga novices, the study's authors found that the novices had a significantly greater increase in certain inflammatory markers when faced with a stressful situation.
Other research indicates that yoga may help alleviate on-the-job stress. For instance, a 2011 study from the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health found that a six-week yoga program helped improve resilience to stress in the workplace. Compared to participants assigned to a waitlist, the 24 study members who took part in an hour-long yoga class each week showed significantly greater improvements in several measures of wellbeing and mood (including clear-mindedness, composure, and feelings of self-confidence during stressful situations).
Should You Use Yoga for Stress Relief?
Taking up yoga may help ease your stress, as well as reduce your muscle tension (a problem closely linked to chronic stress). There's also some evidence that yoga may offer other health benefits, such as management of chronic pain, mood enhancement, improvements in blood pressure control, and weight loss support. Keep in mind that many other activities (including meditation, guided imagery, tai chi, and even listening to soothing music) can also help reduce your stress.
While yoga is generally considered safe, certain postures may be difficult to achieve or may induce muscle and/or joint damage if not executed properly. If you're dealing with a chronic health condition, talk to your doctor about how to safely use yoga for stress management.
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