For a long time now, I’ve had on my own ‘new habits list’, the desire to practice yoga. However, though I visited the Yoga show earlier this year which inspired me a lot, I haven’t made the time to practice.
That was until last month when I joined Asha’s yoga class in Kingston upon-Thames near London. To say that this two hour class was intense, would be an understatement – but let’s just say I can see why people love yoga and include it as part of their personal stress management strategy.
Indeed, there is a lot of evidence to support yoga as an effective stress management technique, but if you need more convincing, let’s look at the evidence of how yoga actually helps you to cope with stress.
According to Dr M Storoni , there are two functional parts of the brain that play a key role in stress, supporting emotion and cognitive functions:
- the ’emotional’ brain (amygdala and its connections and medial forebrain structures including the medial prefrontal cortex)
- ‘logical’ brain (the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, other parts of the prefrontal cortex, parts of the cingulate cortex and parts of the hippocampus).
The emotional brain triggers the ‘stress response’, resulting in adrenaline and cortisol flooding out bodies; whereas the logical brain is always attempting to turn off the stress response and restrain the ’emotional brain’.
The concept is very similar to what Prof Steve Peters describes as our ‘Chimp and Human brain’ in his best selling book: The Chimp Paradox.
In Dr Storoni’s model, the logical brain is always trying to restrain the emotional brain, and thus turn off the stress response, enabling the body and mind to relax. .
So how does yoga help?
In short, the postures and holding in postures helps to strengthen the logical brain, quietening down and keeping the emotional brain under control. As Dr Storoni writes:
‘Yoga is training this entire stress circuit at two levels. First, every time we are ‘holding’ a posture, staying very still to concentrate or trying to balance, our logical brain is being activated.’
Bending forwards and concentrating at the same time triggers both the logical brain and the relaxation signal; whilst bending backwards and contracting a muscle is more challenging, but practiced regularly will also strengthen the logical brain over time.
After a series of yoga postures, the logical brain has had a ‘workout’, which over time will result in a rewiring of the nerve connections within the logical brain, resulting in a number of benefits”
‘You may find it easier to channel your thoughts in the direction you want and not ‘dwell’ on negative thoughts or experiences. This is partly why yoga seems to have a positive effect on depression and anxiety, where sufferers have a tendency to dwell on negative life events.’
You can read Dr Storoni’s full article here or watch this short video which outlines:
- what yoga does to your brain
- why every part of the practice are equally important elements to reduce stress
Finally, here’s a short practice that you can do at home if you’re pushed for time, although I’d recommend going to a class as the feedback from the teacher is very valuable to refining your technique.
Here is the 20 minute routine utilized by the study:
- Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) 1 minute
- Tree Pose (Vrikshasana) 1 minute
- Triangle Pose (Trikonasaana) 2 minutes
- Reverse Triangle Pose (Parivrtta Trikonasana) 2 minutes
- Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Shvanasana) 2 minutes
- Easy Camel Pose (Ustrasana) 2 minutes
- Hare Pose (Shashankasana) 2 minutes
- Sun Salutation (Suryanamaskar) 4 minutes
- Deep Breathing in Lotus Pose (Padmasana Pranayama) 4 minutes
Like with all aspects of health and wellbeing, yoga practice is just one tool in a stress management toolkit. It works well for many people, and there’s the science to prove it. However, it’s not for everyone and to help you create your own stress management toolkit, I’ve created a single sheet containing 28 Stress Reduction Techniques.
Download your Free 28 Tips for a Stress-Free Life