How yoga can help you reduce stress and anxiety

By Allison Miller – Yoga, Meditation, and Wellness Educator

Have you been feeling stressed or anxious lately? If so, you are not alone. According to a NPR report, in which the American Psychological Association was cited, 76 percent of Americans polled last fall said stress from politics, race relations, violence, and inflation had affected their health. Stress can also come from relationships with friends, families, and coworkers and other sources.

Stress can lead to any of the following symptoms: restlessness, feeling wired or keyed up, easily fatigued, difficulty focusing or concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, or sleep disturbances. Anxiety is defined by the American Psychological Association as “persistent excessive worries, that don’t go away even in the absence of a stressor.” Anxiety is internal, and can be a “persistent feeling of apprehension or dread,” in situations that are not threatening. Stress is more external, related to a tight deadline or another external event. Prolonged stress may turn into anxiety-or for some people, anxiety may be a part of their DNA. 

The negative effects of stress on physical health make for a very long list. Some of the more adverse health effects include high blood pressure, migraines, nausea, and vertigo. People who suffer from these issues find different ways to cope: some may choose to engage in high-intensity workouts, some may take up a relaxing hobby, some may visit the doctor and get on medication, some may visit a spa or a massage therapist, and some may practice yoga and meditation.

A growing body of research shows that the regular, consistent practice of slow, mindful yoga can help build resiliance to stress and anxiety and may be one of the most powerful self-care strategies for stress, especially when combined with a cleaner diet, appropriate lifestyle changes, and better sleep hygiene (K.Kavoerii Weber, Subtle Yoga).

What does it mean to build resilience? Resilience is our body’s ability to handle stress without going into a state of anxiety or depression. Research shows that slow mindful yoga helps us build resilience by:

  1. Improving Interoception: interoception is the ability of the mind to feel/sense what is happening in the body. When we practice yoga with short pauses for breathing and connecting with the body, we allow the brain and nervous system to connect. When the mind is aware of what is going on in the body, there is a feeling of safety in the nervous system.
  2. Improving Proprioception: proprioception is our ability to determine where the body is in space. Stability and trust in the body are developed through good proprioception. Slow, mindful yoga allows time to practice this-it is lost as we age.
  3. Improving Neuroplasticity: neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change. Slow, mindful yoga creates new ways of moving and being in the body, and in turn creates new neural pathways in the brain. Rather than instantly reacting to a stressor, we learn to pause, sense, and then take right action.
  4. Increasing GABA: GABA is a neurotransmitter in the brain. It helps to inhibit the stress response. Research by Chris Streeter at Boston University found that yoga increases GABA more than walking.

Slow, mindful practices do more to help the nervous system than a hot/sweaty yoga or fitness class because of the focus on proprioception, interoception, and mind/body awareness. When we are moving fast, we are missing these feelings in the body that can lead to greater connection, more resilience, and ultimately, less anxiety. 

The practice of slow, mindful yoga is different than working out; it is “working in.” You could look at it as time spent working on your nervous system. Taking time to work-out (fitness, cardio, weights), and work-in (slow, mindful yoga, meditation) each week may lead to more resilience to stress, and less anxiety.

Please join Alison on March 29, 2023, 10-11 am, for a free, virtual event: Yoga for Stress & Anxiety There will be a short talk about Yoga for Stress & Anxiety and a slow, mindful yoga class. All levels are welcome and modifications will be shown. The slow and mindful practice is designed to help you tune in, connect mind and body, and build resilience to stress. When you are sign up you will receive a link to the class recording, even if you are unable to attend live.

Sign-up here.

Interested in practicing this type of yoga? Virtual memberships are only $24/month, and include live classes, and access to an on-demand video library.
Learn more about my virtual classes here.