Yoga For Stress Relief

Humans have evolved rapidly from the hunter- gatherer days when our focus was on collecting food and on keeping ourselves from bodily harm. Earlier, stress meant danger and called for a response; stay and fight or run away. This is referred to as the fight-or-flight response. To produce the fight-or-flight response, the hypothalamus activates two systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system. The adrenal-cortical system releases adrenaline into the bloodstream. The sympathetic nervous system uses nerve pathways to initiate reactions in the body, causing it to kick into gear; the overall effect is that the body speeds up, tenses up and becomes generally very alert.

Whilst this sounds like a complex scientific process, the symptoms of this reaction are commonly known to all of us: increase in heart rate and blood pressure, dilation of pupils, and tension in the muscles. And if this tension is sustained, the nonessential systems (like digestion and immune system) shut down to allow more energy for emergency functions.Your body is giving you energy to fight or to run away.

In old times, the act of running away called for great amounts of energy, especially if the enemy was fast and dangerous. The act of staying, most certainly involved a fight. Both these acts being physical required great amounts of energy and the chemicals, which were released, were then burned up and there were no after effects. But today we live in a world where the stress response is often triggered in our bodies but without the subsequent fight- or-flight. If this carries on over a period of time the body’s resistance is sapped away. Imbalances, in the nervous system, endocrine glands and in the chemical and hormonal composition of the blood become permanent. These changes in the way we live have led to a new epidemic of stress related diseases – diabetes, hypertension, migraine, asthama, ulcers, digestive disorders
and skin diseases.

There are many different types of tension, the most obvious being muscular tension. Muscular tensions manifest themselves in the body and if not dealt with, will begin to affect the nervous system and the Endocrinol imbalances.

Emotional tension is what the modern world refers to as stress. This tension occurs because of the dualities in life. As humans we fail to accept the ups and downs of life. We want to cling to the good times and reject the bad times. In society we are beginning to live lives that are more and more isolated and perhaps we have no one to express these emotions to or else we refuse to recognize and accept these emotions and suppress them causing them to become more and more deeply rooted.

Mental tension is also referred to as stress and happens because of excessive mental activity. Our mind stores emotions and experiences from the past and every once in a whole a situation can trigger a negative reaction from the past. When we are angry, sad or depressed, we immediately look outward for the stimulus but usually this reaction comes from accumulated tension on the mental plane.

Yoga is the solution for stress relief.

Firstly yoga helps reduce muscular tension in the body. Many people habitually hold their muscles in a tense manner; gritting the jaw, hunching the back, placing more weight on one leg than on the other. The most common place people carry tension is in the shoulders, hence the phrase “carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders”. A regular asana practice lengthens and elongates the muscles releasing this muscular tension. The asana practice will also strengthen the muscles, allowing them to function in the smooth, supple way they were intended to function.

Yoga helps with emotional tension.

On a physical level the emotions that we feel in our minds manifest themselves in the body and by moving the body we can shake these emotions. Though the ancient yogis understood that emotional turmoil is carried in the mind, the body, and the spirit, Western medicine has been slow to accept this. But new research has verified empirically that mental and emotional condition can affect the state of the physical body, and that the mind-body connection is real. (Newsweek dedicated issues to the topic last year.) Today you will find doctors recommending yoga for stress relief.

Meditation for Stress Management

Yoga is of course not only asana practice and the practices of pranayama and meditation will help us control the mind. By controlling the mind and by learning to live in the moment we can begin to stop the whirlpool of thoughts in our head. The Yoga Sutras of Pathanjali refer to this as “Citta vritta nirodha”, the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.Yoga has been with us for thousands of years. It is an ancient and holistic pathway back to our true nature which is one of peace and joy, not one of stress and tension.

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