When it comes to stress, we have an abundance of it. As a matter of fact, it’s estimated that up to 85% of doctor’s visits are stress-related.
But popping a pill is not the only solution for lowering stress.
There’s a very ancient solution…yoga.
Years ago when I was running a medical center and overseeing 30+ employees and seeing tons of patients, I was feeling pretty stressed. I had heard of a yoga teacher named Hari Kaur Khalsa and enrolled in her class.
Magic! Amazing what you can do when you slow down the world, stretch, breathe, and do postures, and then end with a short meditation.
After a few months of success I asked Hari if she would be willing to do a class for my patients. She agreed and we did one hour of medical “mat chats” sitting on the floor and talking about medical problems followed by one hour of yoga for that particular symptom.
Once again, magic.
That resulted in handouts for the patients, which in turn ended up being A Woman’s Book of Yoga: Embracing Our Natural Life Cycles. It’s a real “East meets West” book.
I want to share a little of what I learned about stress and yoga both as a medical expert in women’s health and menopause and in writing that book.
First of all, why is stress so bad for you and make us feel so bad?
You’ve probably heard of the “fight or flight” response. Our body secretes more cortisol and adrenalin to get us ready to enter into a battle, or present a paper in front of an audience, or participate in a sporting event. It gets our mind focused, our heart beating faster, our blood pressure increasing, our breath sucking in more oxygen, our blood flowing from our stomach to our muscles. That’s the sympathetic nervous system at work. It’s like the accelerator on a car.
The mirror image of that is when we are sitting and eating, or relaxing reading a book, or listening to music or doing meditation. That’s the parasympathetic nervous system at work and it’s like the brake on a car.
This is all a normal part of being human so we can respond to things that require action or inaction. It’s normal in short spurts.
But when we’re chronically stressed, like working two jobs, eating on the run every day, running out of money, constantly fighting with our significant other…the list goes on and on…and we’re chronically stressed, the accelerator is always pedal to the metal. Our body’s “engine overheats” and we are chronically stressed.
That chronic stress can lead to headaches, stomachaches, pain, depression, anxiety, and increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and insomnia. You can see chronic stress isn’t good for you, right? You probably knew that but now you know why.
How does yoga help?
In many ways. It addresses your mind and your body and it focuses on peacefulness.
It balances the accelerator and the brake so that your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are not fighting each other and exhausting you.
When you breathe in, your heart beats faster; when you exhale, your heart slows down. The difference is your heart variability and the greater the variability, the healthier you are. Chronically stressed people don’t have as much variability because the accelerator and brake are always both on and fighting each other.
Yoga helps to change that for the better.
First there are the core components.
- Poses or postures – these lead to strength and flexibility
- Breathing – controlled breathing helps control the accelerator and quiet the mind. A stressed person may breathe 12 -18 times/minute; with yoga it’s more like 4 – 6 times/minute. Don’t you feel more relaxed just reading that?
- Meditation or Relaxation – after a set of yoga exercises, lying on a mat and just relaxing or better yet, doing a meditation is just awesome! It relaxes your body and focuses your mind.
Not only does yoga make you feel better, it has some real health benefits.
- Stress reduction – it lowers stress and anxiety and provides a sense of well being
- Improves fitness – you’ll gain better balance (really good as you age, but valuable in the snow and ice at any age), better flexibility, range of motion and strength
- Helpful in the management of chronic conditions – it decreases your risk factors for heart disease, high blood pressure, and possibly depression, pain, anxiety and insomnia.
I love Kundalini yoga, but all kinds of yoga will be beneficial. Be sure to ask your doctor if there is any reason you should use caution about certain poses, but most people can do yoga and continue doing it well into their later years.
There are many solutions for stress, but yoga is definitely one of the options I suggest you consider.
For music to relax to, consider my award-winning 3-album music album called Sleep & Relax, available to hear examples of or to purchase at http://www.healthrock.com/music/sleep-and-relax-3-cd-set/.