Yoga as Means to Combat Stress

In a society dominated by stress and illness, the principles and practices of yoga can be a guide
to health, wellness and stress reduction. Animals and humans are designed for short bursts of
fight or flight followed by a period of rest.

The four stages of stress activation include:

    1. Alarm – Fight/Flight Response.
    2. Resistance – Adaptation and return to homeostasis.
    3. Exhaustion – If arousal continues, then the attempt to regain balance can lead to depletion, and the physical systems begin to break down.
    4. Termination – If it continues, death can occur.

These four stages of activation represent two types of stress: acute and chronic. Acute stress is found when confronted with life-threatening situations that activate the body’s sympathetic nervous system responsible for “fight or flight” response. While this response was helpful back in the days where humans had to be nimble to survive such threats as animal attacks, it also activates physiological, psychological and biochemical changes in the body, which over time can be damaging to the body. These stressors include increased heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, oxygen consumption, and increased secretion of stress hormones. Today, while likely not running from bears, humans face acute stress in everyday situations such as fighting with a loved one, illness, delivering an important presentation, and dealing with deadlines or an angry boss.

How Stress Affects our Bodies

  • The body strives to maintain the delicate balance of its internal environment. With external
    stresses, the body is constantly compensating to maintain that delicate internal balance
    called homeostasis. When homeostasis is disturbed, a person may experience symptoms of
    disease. Disease is an abnormal and unhealthy state and is not capable of carrying on
    normal functions.
  • Stress is any psychological or physical situation or condition that causes tension or strain. Stress can be any element or situation that requires our body or mind to compensate in order to maintain our delicate balance. Regardless of the source or nature of stress, the physiological reaction of the body is essentially the same.
  • Stress is most notably associated with the adrenal glands and their secretion of the “fight or flight” hormones. Two hormones known as adrenaline and cortisol begin pumping into our blood system when we come under stress. The adrenal secretions give us a physical and mental boost that heightens our senses, sharpens our reflexes and prepares our muscles for maximum exertion. Together these two hormones along with the pituitary and hypothalamus affect the function of most of the internal systems.
  • Muscle tone increases, blood pressure rises and breathing deepens. Blood is directed toward the skeletal muscles and nervous system and away from the digestive organs. Digestion virtually stops. Cortisol promotes the breakdown of the body’s proteins to form glucose and acts as an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic. The effects of these hormones over long periods of time are devastating. Continued secretion of adrenaline eventually exhausts not only the adrenal gland but also effects the sympathetic nervous system creating extreme exhaustion on the body.

How Yoga Helps Destress

A consistent yoga practice goes a long way toward mitigating the effects of the ‘fight or flight’ response by giving your body the opportunity to relax consciously and to rest completely. Relaxation has been credited with the hypothalamus reacting, creating a decrease in sympathetic nervous system arousal, muscle tension, blood pressure and respiration.

Yoga also helps lower stress hormones that compromise the immune system, while also conditioning the lungs and respiratory tract, stimulating the lymphatic system to oust toxins from the body, and bringing oxygenated blood to the various organs to ensure their optimal function. Further, meditation de-stresses the body and mind. Ample research has shown that just 20 minutes of meditation a day increases endorphins, decreases cortisol levels, and fosters positive states of mind to promote better health.

Published August 22, 2017