We have all heard that if we are stressed we should try yoga. Us type A personalities (yes I am a type A personality and used to be way worse before yoga!) may not be able to understand how 90 min in a hot room can help our stress level. In fact, one might argue 90 min not working or being productive probably would stress them out even more right?—wrong! Yoga does help with stress. Stress is connected to the Autonomic Nervous System. Yoga helps with stress by making our Autonomic Nervous System more efficient.
Let’s go back to the basics first:
Our autonomic nervous system really developed back when we evolved from apes into the species we are now, Homo Erectus. Back then we had 3 concerns: eat, sleep, and don’t get eaten. Therefore our bodies were programmed with hormones to help us seek food when hungry, sleep when tired in the best mattress of 2019, and gather all our energy when faced with a stressful situation such as encountering a bear.
We still face situations that stimulate our Sympathetic Nervous System (the fight or flight system), they just aren’t in animal form. Today our stresses come in the form of work deadlines, traffic jams, and juggling kids soccer practices, no doubt we need more helpful hints on how to handle these type of situations. In fact, our lives have become so full, “stresses” often occupy our minds leaving us perpetually in fight or flight response. What makes this even worse is fight or flight will triggers fight or flight. It is a positive feedback loop and without conditioning your parasympathetic system to take over, your body begins to be in a constant state of stress.
What does Fight or Flight look like?
- Elevated Heart Rate
- Increased Blood Pressure
- Adrenaline Increases
- Breathing Rate Increase
- Muscles Tense (Think shoulders up by your ears)
Our lives throw so much stress our way, that our brains never activate the “relax” or parasympathetic nervous system. This is where yoga comes in. Yoga Trains our bodies to use the sympathetic system when needed, and retrains our parasympathetic system to take over when we aren’t actually in fight or flight.
How does Yoga Retrain the Autonomic Nervous System?
Yoga creates a battle field between your sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic system. On one hand, you are exercising: increasing your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate activating your sympathetic system. On the other hand there are actions and heat built into yoga that activate your parasympathetic system and help normalize your Autonomic Nervous System Function:
- Bikram yoga begins and ends with a breathing exercise. Breathing activates the parasympathetic system so you start and end activating your “relax” system.
- There are stretches built into Bikram yoga in between “cardio” poses. Stretching also activates the parasympathetic system.
- Heat has also been proven to help regulate the Autonomic Nervous System making it more efficient. -Vopr Kurortol Fizioter Lech Fiz Kult 2000
The difference between a yogi and a stressed corporate worker is the yogi’s body balances fight or flight with relax better and yes the yogi can work in corporate America!
Have your tried yoga? Did you notice a difference? Let me know the changes you noticed! I would love to hear your stories!