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Stress is the disease of the world today. We are told to compete with others in order to survive and be the best version of ourselves in everything we do.
HOW THE BODY IS AFFECTED?
Stress is mainly associated with the natural body's response of 'fight or flight'. During this 'fight or flight' response, the body is put on high alert and is ready to deal better in high stress environments associated with survival, physically and emotionally. Reactions to stress are associated with enhanced secretion of a number of hormones causing physiological changes that will kick the body into 'fight or flight.' This can also include steroid hormones and growth hormones, the effect of which is to increase mobilization of energy sources and adapt the individual to their 'new' or stressful environment.
When a source of stress arises, hypothalamus (small region of the brain) will stimulate an adrenal gland to secret these hormones as an immediate response. The secreted hormones will have an effect on different body organs, for example; pupils will dilate, an increase in heart rate will occur and glucose can be released which increases blood sugar levels. Stress also effects the breathing pattern from normal to shallow breathing. The body's job in this circumstance is to prepare us for either 'fight' or 'flight'.
However, if we always live in this tension-triggering survival mode, the secretion of these hormones has to be maintained at high levels constantly. Mental illness such as anxiety or depression are attributed to a hyper-sensitivity or dysfunctional 'fight or flight' response that is triggered more easily.
HOW CAN YOGA HELP?
Yoga is commonly known as body and mind relaxation. Yoga stimulates the nervous system during different yoga techniques, including but not limited to asanas, pranayama, meditation and yoga nidra.
1. Asana - As a physical exercise, it can shift your body's awareness to the exercise of physical movement itself. Specifically, yoga asanas stimulate the nervous system by pressing or stretching the related body organs. When the asana is maintained for certain period with relaxation, it stimulates the nervous system with the secretion of endorphins which results in a positive feeling in the body. In addition, asanas relieve and restore the muscle tone which can be imbalanced under stress.
Examples include: Sarvangasana (shoulder-stand), Shalabasana (locust), Dhanurasana (bow), etc.
2. Pranayama - To manage stress, nothing is better than managing your breathing pattern. Simply breathing deeply and controlled can calm the mind. If you have practiced pranayama before, you may adopt Nadi Shodhan (alternate nostril breathing), Bhramari (humming bee) or Ujjayi breathing. These pranayama breathing practices can stimulate the nervous system in many positive ways and decrease heart rate.
3. Meditation - Practicing OM meditation is a simple but effective method by repeating the 'OM' sound for a prolonged breath out. This humming sound is known to calm the mind and maintain the awareness in the present moment. Practicing yoga nidra (yogic sleep) is an effective method of relaxation.
All yoga practices and poses are aimed towards strengthening the body and mind. Yoga can also be calming with meditation and breathing practice. Calm the mind and body and focus inwardly rather than on external problems to reduce stress.
In yoga philosophy, OM represents everything and in meditating OM, your awareness of the physical reality of this world and your body can be realized. It can help one accept, understand and manage one's life. In practicing yoga, you will be able to deal with stress in your life in a healthy way.
Additional resources to read on the effects of stress on our body.