Unveiling the Stress-Relieving Wonders of Yoga on this International Yoga Day

Unveiling the Stress-Relieving Wonders of Yoga on this International Yoga Day

Unveiling the Stress-Relieving Wonders of Yoga on this International Yoga Day

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Yoga encourages relaxation, aiding in stress and anxiety reduction. Physical postures enhance flexibility, relieve tension and alleviate pain. 

14th June 2024

By Sukhmani Kooner 

Yoga Day celebrates the ancient practice’s holistic benefits for mind, body and spirit. Originating in India, yoga is now a global phenomenon, which promotes wellness and unity. This day, observed annually on 21st June, honours yoga’s transformative power, promoting harmony within ourselves and with the world. 

21st June is celebrated as Yoga Day owing to its significance as the longest day in the northern hemisphere (shortest in the southern), a date celebrated across various cultures worldwide.

As yoga gains traction, individuals increasingly appreciate its dual benefits for the body and mind. Cultivating a personalised yoga regimen proves pivotal in stress prevention and alleviation, aligning with many striving for self-betterment. Beyond poses, integrating breathing exercises, meditation and relaxation methods such as yoga nidra enriches one’s routine. Delve deeper to explore yoga’s stress-relieving advantages and optimise your holistic well-being.

Yoga encourages relaxation, aiding in stress and anxiety reduction. Physical postures enhance flexibility, relieve tension and alleviate pain. These poses help release physical blockages like muscle knots, releasing emotions and tension, while also triggering the release of endorphins, improving stress management.

Focusing on the present moment during yoga practice heightens awareness, concentration and mental centering. Awareness of bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings facilitates detachment from experiences, whether positive, negative or neutral. This awareness fosters the cultivation of emotions such as love, joy and serenity.

Scientific evidence strongly supports the stress-relieving advantages of yoga. A 2018 study revealed significant stress, depression and anxiety reductions in women practising Hatha yoga thrice weekly for four weeks. These findings suggest yoga’s potential as a complementary therapy, possibly reducing reliance on prescription drugs. Further research is needed to explore its long-term efficacy in stress, depression and anxiety management.

A 2020 study in adult men indicated that yoga stretches lowered cortisol levels and positively impacted parasympathetic nerve activity, promoting relaxation. Another 2020 study observed that engaging in an 11-minute yoga nidra meditation daily for 30 days led to decreased stress levels, improved overall well-being and enhanced sleep quality. Additionally, yoga nidra practice bolstered mindfulness and decreased negative emotions, with sustained benefits observed six weeks post-study.

Breathing exercises, or pranayama in Sanskrit, offer techniques to relax, regulate breath and promote deep breathing, aiding in stress reduction and mental calmness. These exercises can also improve sleep quality and foster mindfulness.

Practising breathing exercises can occur during yoga sessions or be integrated into daily relaxation routines. They prove beneficial during moments of emotional discomfort or challenging situations.

Several popular pranayama techniques include alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana), ujjayi breathing, breath of fire (kapalabhati), lion’s breath (simhasana), sitali breath and humming bee breath (bhramari).

Here are a few yoga poses to relieve stress- 

1.      Sukhasana, also known as the comfortable pose or simple cross-legged position, is beneficial for grounding and fostering a sense of connection and tranquillity. This variation focuses on hand placements to enhance this connection.

Muscles stretched: glute medius, glute minimus, glute maximus, hip adductors

Muscles engaged: hip flexors, lower abdominals

Begin seated in a cross-legged position on the floor or a folded blanket for added support if needed. Cross your right shin in front of your left, ensuring knees are stacked above ankles and feet are flexed.

In the first variation, place palms facing down on upper thigh bones to promote grounding. Release elbows by your sides and relax neck muscles.

Maintain a long neck and lifted crown of the head, gently closing your eyes as you focus on your breath for 10 deep breaths.

In the second variation, switch leg crossing, placing the left shin in front of the right. Keep legs active and heels flexed.

Position one hand on the lower belly and the other on the heart. Take 10 deep breaths, observing the breath’s movement within the abdomen.

2.      Prone Savasana, or the corpse pose lying on your stomach, offers a sense of support and encourages awareness of breath. During periods of intense stress, this quiet posture prompts the relaxation response, normalising blood pressure, heart rate and hormonal levels. It facilitates the transition to the alpha state or “wakeful relaxation” in the brain.

Lie face down with arms at your sides, allowing legs to comfortably open.

Feel free to turn your head halfway or bend elbows, resting palms together as a “pillow,” or use a towel beneath your head.

Relax the front of your body, sinking into the ground.

Remain in this position for 5 to 10 minutes, prolonging for greater benefits.

To exit, gently transition to a tabletop position, then move hips back toward heels, transitioning into Child’s pose.

3.      Virabhadrasana II, or Warrior 2, fortifies our legs and determination, with extended arms embodying a Power Pose correlated with cortisol reduction.

Muscles strengthened: front leg: external hip rotators, hamstrings; back leg: hip abductors, quadriceps

Muscles lengthened: front leg: adductors; back leg: hip flexors; chest: pectoralis

Commence by standing with feet together, arms at rest. Inhale, extend arms to a T-shape, stepping feet apart to align ankles beneath wrists.

Rotate right leg outward from hip socket (external rotation), slightly inwardly rotating back hip and foot toward front leg.

Exhale, bend front knee over ankle, maintaining straight and strong back leg.

Keep arms extended, neck muscles released from ears, and focus gaze on front hand, breathing deeply for 10 counts.

To exit, straighten the front leg, turning feet parallel. Repeat on the left side.

4.      Half Surya Namaskara A, or half sun salutation, promotes movement during moments of stress, aiding blood circulation, oxygenation and cortisol reduction.

Muscles stretched: hamstrings, spinal extensors, erector spinae (when folded), pectoralis, biceps

Muscles engaged: hip flexors, spinal extensors (when extended), triceps

Start at the top of the mat with feet together or hip-width apart, arms relaxed by your sides, and steady breathing.

Inhale, lifting arms toward the ceiling.

Exhale, folding over legs with hands on either side, bending knees slightly if needed for a lengthened back.

Inhale, placing hands on outer shins, lifting torso halfway, extending chest forward, and looking ahead.

Exhale, folding over legs once more.

Inhale, rising to standing with arms raised, maintaining a long spine.

Exhale, lowering arms by sides. Repeat for desired rounds.