Woman doing yoga, in bridge pose.

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Yoga for Stress Relief – 3 Things that Happen When You Channel Your Inner Zen

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Yoga for Stress Relief – 3 Things that Happen When Y

Brought to you by wellness expert, fitness instructor, and featured guest blogger, Jasmine Madson.


You’ve heard about it, read about it, maybe even experienced it, but have you ever wondered why yoga is so effective at reducing stress? Here are three things that happen when you channel your inner zen:


Nervous system balancing


Deep breathing can be done in just about any position, but corpse pose (savasana in Sanskrit) is one of the best. The intent of this pose is not to rest, but to turn attention inward. Deep breathing intensifies the inward focus, quieting the mind while oxygen activates healing on a cellular level.


Controlled, deep breathing – an integral part of any yoga practice – signals the body to be at rest, calming the sympathetic nervous system, the body’s master stress-activator. It slows the heart rate and stops the release of stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. Over time, a consistent deep breathing practice has been shown to improve chronic stress-related health problems like depression, anxiety, low circulation and irritable bowel syndrome.

To experience the benefits of this pose paired with deep breathing, lie on your back, eyes closed, in a comfortable position with your palms turned upward. Focus on the rise and fall of the diaphragm as you breathe, keeping inhales and exhales even and rhythmic. Stay in this meditative state for a minimum of three minutes, at least once a day, though multiple times daily will be more effective at reducing chronic stress.


Emotional tension release


To do this, lie on your back with arms long at your sides. Let your knees fall open and rest as you bring your feet together. Curl your tailbone upward and lift up into a bridge pose, taking the tension out of your lower back.


Emotional stress manifests as physical tension in the body. In women especially, the hips happen to be a primary emotional storehouse. If you’ve ever had the sudden urge to burst into tears at the end of a yoga class, now you know why – it was likely a class heavy on hip-opening poses. One of the best ways to open up the hips is by moving from a butterfly to a bridge pose (supine baddha kanasana into setu bandha sarvangasana).

Slowly lift and lower for a few repetitions, inhaling as you lift and exhaling as you lower to increase blood flow and soften the hip flexors. Eventually lift and hold for up to five rounds of breath. Slowly lower and repeat.


Through yoga, fear, regret from past relationships, trauma and unhealthy self-criticism can all be exhausted from the body.


Restoration of digestive function


When blood stops circulating to the digestive organs, they stop functioning. Viparita karani, known as legs-up-the-wall pose, is an excellent way to redirect blood flow to the core.


Whenever the body goes into fight-or-flight, be it due to acute or chronic stress, blood flows away from the torso and into the arms and legs. This action shuts down the digestive system, diverting all of the body’s energy to the task at hand: fighting off a threat. The problem in this primal survival mechanism is that very rarely in modern society are our sources of stress physical threats. Herein lies a primary reason the digestive system is so sensitive to stress.

Simply lie on your back with your hips close enough to a wall so that your body forms an L-shape. Keep in mind that your legs do not have to be completely straight in this position; in fact, over-stretching the hamstrings and calves can lead to a strain in the low back. Legs up the wall should be a comfortable, relaxed position. Place one hand on your belly, one hand on your heart, close your eyes and relax.


Circling back to sleep


Stress is a leading cause of insomnia and poor quality of sleep. In turn, a lack of sleep signals stress activation in the body. Both chronic stress and a lack of sleep can cause inflammation, weight gain, imbalanced hormones and ultimately, disease. We can’t always prevent stress from entering our lives, but we can control how we respond to it. Integrate these three yoga poses into your daily routine to minimize stress and maximize your quality of life.


For more on meditation and how it can improve your sleep, Check out Can 4-7-8 Meditation Help Your Sleep?

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