There is no doubt about it that life can feel inherently stressful. Work, noise, a seeming lack of time, and pollution all contribute to bringing stress into our lives. Despite stress being considered a fact of life, it is not something that should be ignored, due to both the physiological and psychological damage that chronic stress can cause. Fortunately, with the proliferation of yoga, negative stress can be managed through various yoga stretches, postures and yogic relaxation techniques that can help to reduce stress, as well as back pain that is often associated with a high-stress life.
The effects of negative stress
It is thought that around 80 percent of illness is a direct result of stress. Exhaustion, which is the outcome of having long-term stress in your life, is what leads to diseases of the mind and body such as heart disease, hypertension, reduced immune response and mental illness such as depression and anxiety.
Bad stress causes the body and mind to be out of balance and leads to muscle tension. Very often we hold stress in tension centres such as the back and shoulders, which is why back pain is often associated with feelings of stress.
When we are under stress, our breathing patterns become shallow and the adrenal glands become overworked. Our blood subsequently becomes depleted of oxygen, which starves the cells that are needed for healthy body function.
When you are stressed-out, you probably also feel lethargic, which is because being in a state of chronic stress is causing your body to be on high alert, sapping your body of energy. It is clear that the physical and mental toll brought on from stress cannot be ignored.
Yoga stretches for stress management
The practice of yoga, which has been around for thousands of years, offers a solution to modern-day stress through an approach that focusses on changing your attitude, changing your habits, and releasing tension in the body.
By avoiding the stress-causing people, places and situations, while also actively working on keeping physical tension at bay, yoga can help to reduce the chance of acute stress from taking hold and the negative symptoms of stress from occurring.
Yoga works by dampening the body’s stress response by reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is what controls our stress reactions. Yoga also boosts the levels of feel-good brain chemicals like GABA, serotonin, and dopamine, which are responsible for feelings of relaxation and contentedness, and the way the brain processes rewards.
In addition to suppressing the stress response, yoga stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us down and restores balance after a major stressor is over. When that is being managed, our bodies are better able to extract nutrients from the food we eat, and more effectively eliminate toxins. With parasympathetic activation, the body enters into a state of restoration and healing.
Yoga can also improve our health by reducing inflammation. Chronic inflammation is responsible for a range of health problems from heart disease to diabetes and also to depression. Yoga has a powerful ability to rebalance and heal the body by helping to balance the body’s systems and easing stress. Yoga’s integrated approach that works on the mind and the body is the perfect antidote to a stressful life.
Releasing tension through yoga
There are a variety of ways that yoga allows us to release tension in the mind and body. It uses a combination of active and passive forms of relaxation techniques through breathing exercises and postures, called asana. It is a powerful mix that allows the body and mind to loosen thus allowing you to better go with the flow of life.
For the novice, yogic relaxation techniques might at first seem like you are doing nothing. However, when done properly, relaxation is a process of consciously finding the place that exists between effort and non-effort.
To practice yogic relaxation for stress management, you first need to:
- Find a quiet place without distractions
- Lie down, and use a pillow to support the head and the knees
- Ensure you are warm and have an empty stomach
You are now ready to begin a yogic posture called the corpse, where you will practice deep relaxation. This posture seems outrageously simple, yet is actually one of the most difficult postures to do because you need to rest your body completely. For many strung-out and stressed-out people, it takes a lot of mental strength to keep the body completely still.
Deep Relaxation Technique
- Lie flat on your back, with your arms stretched out and relaxed by your sides, palms up.
- Close your eyes.
- Form a clear intention to relax.
- Take a couple of deep breaths, lengthening the exhalation.
- Contract the muscles in your feet for a couple of seconds and then consciously relax them. Do the same with the muscles in your calves, upper legs, buttocks, abdomen, chest, back, hands, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, and face including tongue and mouth.
- Periodically scan all your muscles from your feet to your face to check that they’re relaxed.
- Focus on the growing bodily sensation of no tension and let your breath be free.
- At the end of the session, before opening your eyes, form the intention to keep the relaxed feeling for as long as possible.
- Open your eyes, stretch lazily, and get up slowly.
Practice this 10 to 30 minutes every day.
Managing back pain through yoga
The physical aspect of stress overload is also important to address. Lower and upper back problems are prolific among those who are stressed. However, there are yogic techniques for improving common lower and upper back problems that can help to restore the physical and mental function of the body, which ultimately leads to a state of health and wellbeing.
The spine is an important element of yoga, and yogic twists help to keep the blood supply going to the intervertebral discs, which keeps the spine fluid and supple. Twists not only help to keep the spine firm and strong, but they also massage the internal organs, such as your intestines and kidneys, aid with digestion, and stretch and strengthen the muscles of your back and abdomen.
Yoga stretches for back pain, such as yogic twists, can be done seated, reclining and standing, each type focusing on a different area of the back. Some good yogic twists to try if you suffer lower back include the following:
Easy chair twist
This seated posture is an excellent way to loosen the spine. You could use a chair or use your Wellness Ball™ Active Sitting.
- Sit sideways on a chair with the chair back to your left, your feet flat on the floor, and your heels directly below your knees.
- Exhale, turn to the left, and hold the sides of the chair back with your hands.
- As you inhale, extend or lift your spine upward.
- As you exhale, twist your torso and head farther to the left
- Repeat Steps 1 through 4, gradually twisting farther with each exhalation, for 3 breaths (don’t force it) and then hold the twist for 6 to 8 breaths.
- Repeat Steps 1 through 5 on the opposite side.