If you’re feeling the stress of living in 2020, you’re not alone. Now more than ever, we’re facing challenges which put us on edge. But stress doesn’t have to cause distress. I often recommend yoga when someone is struggling day-to-day because this mind-body practice releases tension, brings balance back to your life and improves your overall health. It’s important to remember that stress isn’t just in your mind - it’s also in your muscles and joints.
Yoga works by combining physical poses with controlled breathing and meditation.
- Poses are physical movements designed to build strength and increase flexibility.
- Breathing is controlled to support physical movement while quieting the mind.
- Mediation is practiced to be mindful and in the moment without judgment.
The unique approach builds muscle strength and balance while emphasizing self-compassion and self-awareness. Rather than leaving you exhausted, a session of yoga can make you feel relaxed and peaceful. Some also experience lower blood pressure and heart rate.
In fact, a national survey from 2012 found that 86% of people who did yoga reported it relieved stress, 67% said it helped them feel better emotionally, 59% said it improved sleep and 82% said it improved overall health and made them feel better.
According to National Institute of Health, research also suggests that yoga may help people:
- Manage anxiety/depressive symptoms
- Relieve low back and neck pain
- Relieve menopause symptoms in women
- Quit smoking
- Lose weight
- Manage symptoms of chronic diseases
- Improve quality of life
With results like that, it’s no wonder yoga is popular. But it’s hardly the new kid on the exercise block. Yoga was first developed in northern India more than 5,000 years ago. Much later, during the early 1900s, yoga masters began traveling to the West. Since then, different styles of yoga have come into vogue as they were popularized by teachers and gurus.
A type for beginners, Hatha Yoga, focuses on physical yoga postures to achieve harmony and balance. It has a slower pace and easier movements. You may have also heard of hot yoga, which is done in a 105-degree room to prepare the body for movement and sweat out impurities. There are several other kinds and one isn’t necessarily better than another, just right for that person in that moment.
The type that’s best for you also depends on your physical condition and desired results. If you’re pregnant, older or have a health condition (herniated disk, severe osteoporosis, uncontrolled blood pressure, risk of blood clots, severe balance problems), be sure to talk to your health care provider before starting a new yoga program.
To prevent possible injuries, such as sprains and strains, it’s best to take a class with a qualified instructor. Don’t rush into advanced moves like headstands and the lotus position. Yoga is meant to be gradual. You should start where you’re comfortable and focus on your breathing and each individual movement. Remember that the goal isn’t a destination but a journey. Stress is something you’ll leave behind on your way.
(Beverly Franz, MS, LPC, LPCC, is a mental health counselor at CHI St. Alexius Health Archway Mental Health Services. She specializes in depression and anxiety, eating disorders, gender identity, mind body connection, PTSD, stress management, and trauma.)