Is yoga a stress buster?

Modern life is full of stress. People stress about money, keeping their jobs, looking after their children, and their health. But the human body can only deal with stress for so long before it breaks down, and then people start to feel ill, either physically or mentally. It is essential that steps are taken to prevent this happening, and this is where yoga can help.

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What yoga is not

Yoga is not considered exercise, as it is normally defined. Most exercise is undertaken to improve the strength of the body, reduce weight and tone muscles. A yoga session is called a practice rather than exercise and it is not intended to be competitive. Yoga is not about working up a sweat and it is not a way to lose weight, although these may happen. Yoga is a way of relaxing, strengthening both body and mind with body positions designed to improve balance, focusing on breathing and inducing calm.

How yoga can help

The key physical benefit of yoga is improved flexibility in the joints and muscles. Many people think yoga will be difficult, because the positions are difficult to achieve, but there are a wide variety of poses, from simple through to more advanced, depending on the type of yoga being practiced. The wonderful thing about yoga is that the body is not pushed to do anything it is physically incapable of. With yoga, the phrase ‘no pain, no gain’ is anathema. In yoga, a person is told to listen to their body so that if a position begins to feel uncomfortable or actually causes pain, then the practice should cease.

Yoga teaches an individual how to breathe to reduce stress. When people are feeling stressed, they tend to take shallow breaths. Yoga encourages the taking of deeper breaths, which helps to oxygenate the blood, relax muscles and induce a feeling of calm.

Yoga can help to focus the mind. When an individual is engaged in a yoga pose, they have to think about holding the position and breathing correctly, bringing all their attention to bear on it. This can help forget worries for a few minutes, and with practice, this ‘letting go’ of worries can become easier to achieve.

How yoga can help with major illnesses

As a practice is not a physically intensive workout, people suffering from chronic illnesses can enjoy the health benefits of yoga. Women with breast cancer who undergo chemotherapy as part of their treatment often suffer greatly from fatigue, but recent research has suggested that yoga can offset this, as it helps to regulate stress hormones, and can result in better outcomes for life post-treatment. Of course, another key feature of major illnesses is the depression it can cause, and yoga can help in this area too. Yoga’s focus on breathing and relaxation, as well as the chemicals that are released during any form of exercise, means that women who practice it find they develop better sleeping patterns and become better able to cope with life in general.