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From Stressed to Rest: Why Yoga Makes Us Feel Good.

Updated: Jun 2

If you've ever left a yoga class feeling calmer, more relaxed and just generally heaps better than you did before. You might be wondering how it has this magical power? Well, spoiler alert, it's not magic!

Here's a quick deep dive into the science of how yoga helps us feel less stressed.

Modern Life Is Stress-Full

Lots of us spend much of our day in a mild to moderate state of stress. Whether it's rushing to get the kids to school, or yourself to work, on time. Sitting in traffic or on a busy train on your commute. Or other personal stressors like deadlines and work pressure or family dynamics and health worries. Even just navigating a busy supermarket can be pretty anxiety-inducing! Not to mention the effect overarching threats like the costs-of-living or global-warming can have on us.

Aside from the physical benefits of yoga - like improved strength, stamina, mobility and overall fitness. Yoga has a huge impact on the way we deal with stress as it helps to regulate our nervous system.

Our Nervous Systems Weren't Built For This

You may have heard of the terms fight-or-flight or rest-and-digest? Well, these are what I'm going to be talking about here. The stressors mentioned above keep us in an up-regulated state. Meaning that we spend a lot of time in our fight-or-flight response.

This is the state our bodies used to fire up when we needed to run away from a tiger, or other terrifying creatures. But we don't tend to have to do that very much anymore... Our threats have become things like deadlines and busy supermarkets. Things we can't so easily run away from. Well, maybe the supermarket you can but you'd look pretty weird. And that's a whole other stressor right there - social pressure. Anyway, back to the point…

When we feel threatened by said deadline or supermarket, our nervous system flushes us with the energy to run or fight. But instead of doing either of these, we try to remain outwardly composed. While on the inside, our hearts are racing, our breathing is fast and we're probably feeling pretty anxious.

A vigorous yoga practice, or indeed any physical activity, simulates the act of running-away. Allowing us to then down-regulate and come into our rest-and-digest state. This state is the one where we feel calm and at ease. And it's when vital functions like digestion can be carried out.

Surprisingly, our nervous system can't tell the difference between a real and perceived threat. Meaning that just thinking about a stressful event can trigger the same response as an immediate threat. Therefore we spend even more of our time living in a stressed state.

Chronic (long-lasting) stress can lead to issues with our immune, digestive and reproductive systems. And can cause type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. All things we definitely want to try and avoid!

How Yoga Helps

Now this is where yoga starts to set itself apart from other types of exercise…

The challenging nature of some of the yoga asanas (postures) can stimulate our sympathetic nervous system (the one triggering our fight-or-flight response). But in yoga we pair these

challenging postures with a focus on the breath. We learn how to stay calm in some pretty uncomfortable positions.

By focusing on our breathing and keeping it regulated we're letting our nervous system know that we're safe. And that even though the situation is challenging we don't need to run away from it.

The more you practise, the more you'll be able to remain calm while in challenging situations off the mat too.

Staying Present Keeps You Calm

Linking back to the fact that our nervous system can't tell the difference between a real or perceived threat. By learning how to focus on what's happening in the present moment (like we do in yoga all the time) means we'll naturally spend less time ruminating on stressful events.

Slow, deep breathing stimulates our rest-and-digest response, helping us feel calmer and more at ease. And the more time we spend in this state the more time our bodies have to carry out crucial functions like digestion and reproduction. It also means that we're able to relax more effectively so we'll feel less tense and sleep better.

Yoga Can't Fix Everything, But It Can Fix A Lot

Now yoga's definitely not the 'miracle-cure-for-all-disease' (something that used to get spouted about a lot). But it can definitely have a profound effect on our daily lives. Improving both our physical and mental health by enhancing our ability to cope with the stressors life throws at us.

So, the next time you're in a class and your teacher tells you to focus on your breath. You'll understand a little bit more about why and the important benefits doing so can have!

If you struggle with stress, anxiety or just generally feeling overwhelmed or burn-out. Come along to my next Yoga For Anxiety Workshop and learn simple, effective ways to ease these feelings. Allowing you to find your calm, wherever you are.

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